Neymar injury: Brazil's World Cup dream suffers setback

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Archive: Zuniga challenge ends Neymar's World Cup

In Fortaleza

Fortaleza's Avenida Beira Mar was alive with the sounds of Brazil's celebrations after they took another step towards the 2014 Fifa World Cup final - but there was no mistaking the Neymar effect.

The road that sweeps around the front of this picturesque north-eastern coastal location was populated with fans torn between the joy of quarter-final victory against Colombia and the sadness of seeing their icon and greatest hope left in a local clinic and out of the tournament.

Neymar's departure on a stretcher with a fractured vertebra was not exactly a footnote to the win that sets up a semi-final against Germany but few suspected the full consequences of Colombia defender Juan Zuniga's cynical knee in the back at the actual moment of impact.

World Cup 2014: Brazil 2-1 Colombia highlights

And the scale of Neymar's importance to hosts Brazil and the World Cup was illustrated by the reaction as recognition hit home that the 22-year-old was facing a fight to remain involved in the showpiece that so often bears his name and face here in Brazil.

As those inside Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao acclaimed coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his players at the final whistle after a night of colour, noise and pure theatre, others outside were making their way to where Neymar had been taken for what was ultimately a pessimistic diagnosis.

Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar delivered the news that left the nation fearing their dream of winning the World Cup on home soil had been irreparably damaged by the brutal challenge on Neymar.

Brazil at the 2014 World Cup
OpponentPossessionPassing successTackle successTotal shotsGoals scored

Scolari, with a typical verbal flourish, announced Neymar had been "hunted" - although plenty could assert with some justification that Brazil had employed similar methods to subdue Colombia forward James Rodriguez.

He complained: "Not even a yellow card. Nothing. People think Germany, these or the others, only they are hunted but not Neymar."

It was somehow an almost inevitable result of an extraordinarily lenient display by referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, whose refusal to exert his authority on a game that contained more fouls than any other at this World Cup, 54, occasionally threatened a free-for-all and encouraged defenders to take such licence.

This figure exceeded Brazil's last game against Chile, when there were 51 fouls. Brazil also conceded more fouls than they have done in any World Cup match since 1966 with 31 while the last time there were more fouls in a single game was when Germany played Argentina in 2006, when 55 were committed.

Neymar was carried off on a stretcher after 88 minutes against Colombia

It suggests that for all the commitment to the so-called "O Jogo Bonito" ("the Beautiful Game") Scolari's Brazil are prepared to do whatever it takes to win.

Whereas the roughed up Rodriguez left the field in tears, with the sort of sympathy from Brazil's players they had pointedly declined to offer him during the game, Neymar left on a stretcher and to the sad acceptance that his World Cup, if not Brazil's, was over.

Inevitably, given that Neymar has become the public face of Brazil's campaign, the television screens were dominated by the challenge and its consequences. They must now do without the one player regarded as close to irreplaceable.

The fact that another player of great significance, captain Thiago Silva, will also not face Germany in Belo Horizonte because of suspension was reduced to the undercard in terms of importance.

Brazilian media have been offering up the theory that when Neymar plays well Brazil play well - and vice-versa. It may be overstating the case and they got through here with goals from central defenders Silva and David Luiz, but there was always a question mark about how they would cope without him.

Neymar at the World Cup
Matches played5
Minutes played457
Attempts on target72.2%
Goals scored4

Now, against the wishes of the entire country, they get the chance to find out.

Neymar may have had mixed fortunes at Barcelona but this has not reduced his celebrity nor the level of adulation here. He brings a touch of fantasy to a Brazil side that is not vintage in many areas and distinctly vulnerable in some.

If there is some consolation for Scolari it will come from the manner in which Brazil were at least able to get a result without Neymar at his best but it looked scant as the news sank in.

Doubts have been raised about whether Brazil have the quality to win the World Cup and the absence of their best player, the man regarded as their best hope of victory and who had contributed four goals, will only increase them.

Brazil fan outside hospital
Fans gathered outside the hospital where Neymar was being treated

Scolari admitted he was unsure how he would adjust to Neymar's absence but this may now be the chance for Chelsea's Willian to make his mark and for team-mate Oscar's role to be an even more prominent one but there is no doubt Brazil will spend the days between now and Tuesday's semi-final against Germany coming to terms with this loss.

It was a sad end to a spectacular occasion in Fortaleza, from the extended rendition of Brazil's national anthem to the sweep of yellow shirts - broken only by those choosing to wear the red of Colombia's away kit - and the thunderous noise that did not let up for 90 minutes.

This was what Scolari called "the fifth step" on the road to the World Cup and redemption for Brazil as this country seeks to expunge the still bitter memories of the defeat by Uruguay in the final in Rio 1950.

This may seem like a lifetime ago but it remains almost like yesterday for so many in Brazil who recall it as their darkest sporting day.

The roadshow now moves to Belo Horizonte for Scolari's sixth step. The dream lives on but there was no disguising Brazil's pain and concern at having to try and complete the final part of the journey without, in their eyes, the World Cup's biggest star.


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