TERESOPOLIS, Brazil: Neymar battled back tears as he urged his Brazil team-mates to win the World Cup without him after suffering a fractured vertebrae in the quarter-final win over Colombia.
“They took away my dream of playing in a World Cup final, but the dream of being a world champion is not over,” the emotional superstar said in comments released by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) as he left the team camp yesterday.
Neymar’s agonising plight remained centre stage as FIFA announced it would consider action against Colombian defender Juan Zuniga who kneed the Brazilian in the back. Zuniga apologised to Neymar but insisted he had not deliberately hurt the star striker.
“Life moves on. I am sure my team-mates will do everything possible so that we can achieve our dream of being champions,” Neymar said in a video released by the federation.
“It was also my dream to play in a World Cup final. It will not be this time, but I am sure we will overcome this and we will all be able to celebrate being champions.”
The Brazil squad applauded the 22-year-old Barcelona striker in an emotional farewell at their Teresopolis camp before he was taken to Rio de Janeiro by helicopter.
Meanwhile, Brazilian team doctor Jose Luiz Runco called for World Cup referees to do more to protect players as he confirmed details of Neymar’s fractured third lumbar vertebrae, a bone in his lower back.
The injury was suffered in a crunching challenge by Colombia defender Juan Zuniga in Friday’s game in Fortaleza, which Brazil won 2-1.
“In games involving Brazil we have seen some things happen that are not in keeping with what we should see on a football field,” he said, recalling the crunching challenges during last week’s game against Chile that already left Neymar battered and bruised.
“Referees have tried to avoid giving out cards but FIFA is likely to take some action now. They must have experts looking into what happened.”
FIFA has said it is looking into the incident after Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo did not even book Zuniga for the challenge. Zuniga has expressed regret for the injury but insisted there was no intention to cause harm.
“I deeply regret the sad injury suffered by Neymar during the game between Brazil and Colombia,” the defender said in a letter sent to Neymar that was quoted by the Colombian Football Federation.
“This situation resulted from normal game action and there was no ill-intent, malice or negligence on my part,” Zuniga added.
Neymar was collecting the ball in the 88th minute when Zuniga launched a jumping challenge from behind and kneed the Brazilian in the lower part of his back. Runco said that the fracture will need around six weeks -- 40 to 45 days -- to heal, and that the player will rest at home with his family in Guaruja, near Sao Paulo.
In the meantime, Brazil must hope that the injury does not have a negative impact on squad morale.
“Everyone in the squad was shocked, upset by what happened,” Runco said of the mood in the dressing room. “One said to me: ‘It seems like we have lost the game’”.
Neymar departed Brazil’s base in Terespolis on Saturday afternoon, waving to the cameras after he was loaded on a stretcher onto a helicopter on a pitch at the Granja Comary training ground.
With his father alongside him, Neymar then took off for Rio de Janeiro, from where he was expected to return to his family home. Without their star player, and with captain Thiago Silva suspended, Brazil must take on Germany in Tuesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte, although Runco suggested that Neymar may yet attend the match at the Mineirao Stadium.
“It all depends on whether he feels any pain, but it shouldn’t get in the way of his recovery,” he said. AFP