[BRAZIL 2014] Through 57 games, the 2014 World Cup was a gem. The best of our lifetime. What more could you have asked for? Great goals. Great saves. And end-to-end drama.
And then came Match 58.
Brazil-Colombia should have been one of the tournament's best games -- the inventors of jogo bonito against the new darlings of South America -- but it was ill-tempered affair.
Brazil advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 win but paid a heavy price as Neymar was lost for the tournament with a fractured vertebra.
The incident came in the 87th minute with the Cafeteros pressing for an equalizer after having closed the margin to 2-1 six minutes. As a loose ball off a Colombian corner kick came to Neymar with his back to the Colombian goal, Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zuniga came flying in and stuck his knee into the small of Neymar’s back. Play was waived on as the Brazilians ran off on a counterattack, but when it was stopped shortly thereafter, no yellow card or red card was issued by referee Carlos Velasco Carballo.
By then, the Spaniard had long since lost control of the match.
Velasco whistled 54 fouls in the match -- 31 for Brazil and 23 for Colombia -- the most of the World Cup. But the most important number to remember is 41. It wasn't until the 41st foul in the 64th minute that Velasco reached for his pocket and issued a yellow card to Brazil captainThiago Silvafor running into Colombian keeper David Ospina as he went to kick the ball as he attempted to kick the ball to start a quick counterattack.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was incredulous that Thiago Silva was issued a card that will keep him out of the semifinals against Germany but no card was not issued on Zuniga.
"Everyone knows Neymar was going to be hunted," he said.
Zuniga said all he was doing was shadowing Neymar.
"I was not thinking of hurting him," he said afterwards. "I was defending my country's colors."
All throughout the tournament, Neymar had been harassed. His 18 fouls suffered are the second most in the tournament behind only 21 Greece's Georgios Samaras. Neymar often went down acrobatically, sometimes after being fouled, other times not. He was injured early in the Chile match and was in doubt for the Colombia match.
Most Fouls Suffered:
21 Georgios Samaras, Greece
18 Neymar, Brazil
12 James Rodriguez, Colombia
12 Luiz Gustavo, Brazil
11 Jermaine Jones, USA
But Neymar wasn't the only hunted player in Fortaleza. Early in the first half, Brazilian Fernandinho took out Colombian starJames Rodriguez with a body block. Winger Juan Cuadrado and James were each fouled six times. Cuadrado was totally ineffectual, while James was so rattled he needlessly fouled Hulk midway through the second half, drawing the first Colombian yellow card. James was incredulous, pointing one finger at Velasco as if to say it was only his first foul.
The Brazilians got the last laugh as on the ensuing free kick David Luiz dropped a "folha seca" past Ospina from 30 yards for what proved to be the winning goal.
Already in the round of 16, Brazil's game against Chile was an incident-filled match with 51 fouls -- 28 for Brazil and 23 for Chile -- and seven yellow cards. Colombian coach Jose Pekerman blamed the pressure on the Brazilians as hosts for the trouble on Friday.
"Brazil needed to win the game," he said. "There was a lot of intensity and that interrupted the game."
Pekerman, who is Argentine, said both teams had good players, and their competitive raised the friction.
"It is not wise to play a game like this," he said, "but the tension was very high."
Colombia is going home, while Brazil moves on to the semifinals against Germany Tuesday in Belo Horizonte. As the news filtered out from the hospital in Fortaleza, where fans gathered and shouted, "Forca Neymar" ("Be strong, Neymar") fans wondered if Brazil could win the World Cup without Neymar, who had scored four of Brazil's 10 goals.
They were reminded that the only other time Brazil won the World Cup in South America was in 1962 in Chile, where it did it without Pele, who was injured in the second game and did not play for the rest of the tournament.
Whether the 2014 Brazil team has the same supporting cast to win the World Cup, we'll find out soon enough.