Improved Brazil squeaks past Colombia, but loses Neymar

By Ridge Mahoney

Another South American opponent, another knockout match, and another shaky showing, but another victory for Brazil, which by beating Colombia, 2-1, Friday in Fortaleza reached the semifinals. But the victory was overshadowed by the injury to Brazil star Neymar that will keep him out of the rest of the World Cup.

By scoring an early goal and tightening up its defense, Brazil edged past the Colombians, whose energetic play and penchant for attack had livened up each of their first four matches. But they conceded a goal in the seventh minute by leaving Thiago Silva unmarked to score easily on a corner kick, and after rallying mildly without scoring fell further behind whenanother defender, David Luiz, struck a superb "falling leaf" free kick from more than 30 yards out.

James Rodriguez added to his lead in the Golden Boot race by notching his sixth goal from the penalty spot and the Cafetaros reverted to their spirited persona to press forward in search of the equalizer without success. Brazil moves on to play Germany Tuesday in the first semifinal concerns about two of its most important players.

Neymar out. A chippy match rife with awkward tackles and ill-timed challenges took its toll on many players, but by far the most serious incident waylaid Neymar in the 86th minute. He was waiting to control a ball in the air at midfield when Carlos Zuniga crashed into him from behind, his right knee driving into Neymar’s lower back.

Neymar left the field on a stretcher and two hours after game a report the Brazilian national team doctor reported that he’d sustained a fracture of the third vertebrae and is out of the tournament. Neymar, bothered by knee and thigh knocks in the round-of-16 defeat of Chile, had played mostly a supporting role, setting up chances for Fred, Oscar, and Hulk while seldom testing Colombian keeper David Ospina himself. His set plays, though, menaced an unsure Colombian back line, and his in-swinging corner from the left side wound up in the net off Thiago Silva’s thigh.

Silly suspension. Thiago Silva could have been Man of the Match. His smart, tough work in central defense repeatedly blunted Colombia, which needed about 20 minutes to recover after he opened the scoring. Defensive fragility had plagued Brazil in its first four games but though Colombia gradually played its way back into the game there were fewer of the miscues and breakdowns that had tainted Brazil’s earlier games.

But Thiago Silva’s sure tackles and timely interceptions were tainted by a moment of stupidity in the 64th minute. After coming up for a set play, he cut in front of Opsina as the keeper prepared to kick the ball back into play and the ensuing caution –- the first of four handed out by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Caballo -– was his second of the knockout phase and disqualifies him for the semi against Germany.

He could be replaced in the semifinal by Dante, who knows the German players as teammates as well as foes through his employment with Bayern Munich. (Six Bayern players started in Germany’s 1-0 quarterfinal defeat of France.) Yet Dante has yet to play in the tournament and Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brought on defender Henrique (for Neymar) as extra cover in the final minutes.

Stronger spine. Scolari had to make a change forced by suspension for the quarterfinal, and deployed Paulhino in place of Luiz Gustavo. Backed by Fernandinho, the Tottenham midfielder found a lot of space in the Colombian half of the field and the work of those two did much to defuse Colombia’s pacy, possession game.

Rodriguez displayed his usual guile and flare but he received little support. Whether the occasion got to them or they were rocked by the early goal, the Cafetaros played a step slower and less confidently than they had in sweeping their group games and beating Uruguay in the round of 16. Fernandinho dominated the space in front of Thiago Silva and David Luiz, who smothered Teofilo Gutierrez for much of the game.

Yet the defense creaked repeatedly in the second half as Brazil scrambled to retain that 1-0 lead and a second goal merely jacked up the Colombian pressure.

Bacca brings it.  Down 2-0 with 20 minutes to go after David Luiz’s incredible free kick, the Colombians finally hit their stride with insertion of Carlos Bacca. He drove at Brazil from the right flank and caused the host several anxious moments before running onto a diagonal ball and nicking it past Julio Cesar as the keeper crashed into him.

Julio Cesar was cautioned, not sent off, since a teammate was close enough to recover the ball after the foul. Brazilian players delayed the kick for several minutes by taking water as an "injured" teammate was attended to, but Rodriguez waited patiently before striding forward to bang a low shot to his left as the keeper went the other way.

Rodriguez and Bacca led a desperate Colombian charge that rattled the Brazilians but didn't produce a goal  and they collapsed on the field in disappointment after five minutes of stoppage time. Rodriguez and some of his teammates cried after the final whistle. He was consoled by David Luiz, who embraced him and spoke earnestly for several minutes after the pair exchanged jerseys. 

Fabulous free kicks. As if defending the typical array of flicks and passes and dribbles and moves Brazilian players are renowned for isn’t enough, opponents for decades have been beguiled by the five-time champion’s mastery of free kicks.

Past masters of free kicks include Rivelino, Rivaldo, Didi, Roberto Carlos, and, of course, Pele, who usually had several lethal specialists on the field with him and would often stand by and let one of them take a crack. David Luiz’s dipping shot from the middle of the field narrowly escaped Opsina’s desperate lunge and glanced down off the bottom of the crossbar.

Writing for The Observer prior to the 2002 World Cup, Rivelino wrote of a member of the Pele generation who helped define the genre:  “Before me, Didi, who perfected the folha seca ["falling leaf''], where he'd kick the ball flying over the wall, and it would kind of drop down into the goal.”

When that level of precision and skill and audacity are required, nobody does it better than the hosts. 

5 comments about "Improved Brazil squeaks past Colombia, but loses Neymar".
  1. Rene Guerra, July 5, 2014 at 12:23 a.m.

    From the replays of the play, it is evident that Carlos Zuniga intentionally crashed his knee on Neymar's vertebral column.

    Luis Suarez bite is nothing as dangerous as the intentional --bordering on criminality-- attack of Zuniga on Neymar; FIFA should penalize Zuniga, and much more severely than Suarez.

  2. Nancy Carr-swaim, July 5, 2014 at 12:38 a.m.

    Rene, I agree with you on this one. A knee in the back is very dangerous and serious. But the ref seemed to have lost control of this game from the beginning. He should have know it would become too physical if left alone. Waiting until the last 15 minutes to start throwing yellow cards is a bit late, especially for Neymar.

  3. Tom Symonds, July 5, 2014 at 2:43 a.m.

    Agree, Nancy...the ref lost it in the beginning when he failed to pull out the yellows for both sides, but especially the Brazilians who were the most active violators at the time -- after all, we can't have all those Brazilians on yellows going into the match picking up another one and be suspended for the showdown with Germany, now can we? It is a shame to lose Neymar...I always want to see the very best playing against each other and Brazil without Neymar will mean less luster for the semifinal; but there will be increased high drama with the fallen hero out of the mix.

  4. TK TK, July 5, 2014 at 1:08 p.m.

    Fifa is to blame for this. They ask their refs to favor certain teams in calls (its obvious) and other teams get furstrated and resort to this. Not an excuse to do something like this but if FIFA made sure their fres were not biased you would see much less of these kind of situations. Brazil ahd been favored all tournament long. PAid a much higher price for it.

  5. I w Nowozeniuk, July 6, 2014 at 12:30 p.m.

    Improved brazil? Perhaps improved with a sense of urgency, yet their persistent team fouling was what got them through thanks to the derelict refereeing. That same ref took a blind eye to the malicious mugging of Neymar with no reprieve. IMHO, this ref enabled the thuggery and should be signed by the MLS.

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