Although hardly an impolite nudge in the back, the contact didn’t seem all that serious when it happened. Yes, the player did seem to be in, but that’s hardly a novele feature in this tournament, with apparently stricken souls suddenly revitalised by the ministering hands of the physio. This time however it was serious.
Neymar, playmaker extraordinaire, poster boy of the 2014 World Cup and carrier of a nation’s hope was suddenly unable to carry all of that expectation as Columbian Juan Zuniga crashed into him and fractured a vertebra in that overburdened spine. Early prognosis suggested that bruising was the main outcome, and that Neymar may still be able to play against Germany in the semi-final, but that hope quickly turned to despair as the full impact of the injury became clear.
That Zuniga will now be painted as the villain should Brazil not progress to win the trophy is a foregone conclusion, and the defender will probably be glad that playing his club football for Napoli in Serie A means that he’ll be a long way away from any potential threats. After the game, the Columbian gave the obligatory comment that there was no malice in the incident, declaring that he was “playing for the shirt from my country, not with the intent to injure”. I’m not sure that washes with the Brazilian fans really.
Brazilian captain Thiago Silva – who also misses the Germany game due to a suspension – insists that although losing their talismanic player will of course be a blow, there will be an added impetus for the team to deliver the trophy for their injured colleague. “Neymar is very important for our group, we depend a lot on him. But potentially this situation can mark a revolution for us, like ‘let’s win the Cup for Neymar’.” I’m unsure if it’s just me who feels that such a rallying call seems a little hollow, from a captain who feels his team’s chances of obtaining their goal has been radically reduced.