Brazil Diary: Rage and Sadness after Neymar's injury

By Mike Woitalla

“He's a coward and a criminal,” says Paolo Roberto, at the Jato Bar in Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro.

“A murderer, not a soccer player,” says Valmir, getting increasingly riled up as he stands on the sand of Flamengo Beach waiting to join a beach soccer game. “If Luis Suarez gets a nine-game suspension, that son of a whore deserves many more games.”

They are talking about Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zuniga, who late in Los Cafeteros’ 2-1 loss to Brazil broke a vertebra in Neymar’s back.

“It was intentional, no doubt,” says Paolo Roberto’s friend Zeir. “Yes, the Brazilians fouled a lot in that game, but they played hard, not dirty.”

If you ask Brazilians, especially children, to name their favorite player, the answer is always Neymar.

Ever since he made his 2010 debut for the Selecao, at age 18, scoring in a 2-0 win over the USA in a Giants Stadium friendly, Neymar has been Brazil’s latest “next Pele.” And he has not disappointed. Neymar’s four goals carried Brazil in group play. He also buried the Brazil’s deciding spot kick in the shootout against Chile.

Turn on the television in Brazil, and you won’t have to wait long to see a replay of the incident. One station showed 12 replays in a row, from different angles and speeds, including super slow-motion, showing precisely how Zuniga’s knee hits Neymar.

“Stabbed in the back,” is the Hora Meia headline. O Dia’s front-page headline next to a photo of Neymar on the ground clutching his back and Zuniga still in the air reads: “Damn Colombian.”

O Globo has eight three-by-three inch photos of the foul that could be turned into a flipbook. It also produced a detailed diagram of Neymar’s spine and drawings of the brace he’ll be wearing during recovery.

“The Pain of Brazil,” offers Jogo Extra with a close-up shot of Neymar screaming in agony. “A Criminal Tackle” … “A Blow to Brazil” … “Cowardly act ends Neymar’s World Cup” are other headlines.

That the incident will rally the Selecao is also a consensus (“We will go on without him, We will go on for him” -- O Dia).” Maybe it will. Brazil is not short on attacking talent. Perhaps the skillful dribbler Oscar will now step out Neymar’s shadow after fairly subdued performances so far. Other players who could help compensate for Neymar’s absence are Bernard, Willian, Ramires and Hernanes.

“Neymar is great,” says 8-year-old Gabriel as we interrupt his play on the beach with his buddy Samuel. “It makes me sad that he got hurt. But Brazil will still win the World Cup.”

15 comments about "Brazil Diary: Rage and Sadness after Neymar's injury ".
  1. Eric R., July 5, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.

    That foul didn't look intentional to me. Both sides were playing hard by then. The ref lost control of this match early in the 1st half and Brazil has been playing this overly-physical & un-Brazilian style of soccer since last year. You wanna play dirty? Play dirty. But don't cry about it when injuries happen. Feel bad for Neymar though. Hope to see him back on the field in a few months!

  2. Matt Stachler, July 5, 2014 at 2:07 p.m.

    Maybe he'll be less theatrical and less likely to dive now. Throwing up his legs and taking awkward falls consistently adds up.

  3. Richard Broad, July 5, 2014 at 2:14 p.m.

    Zuniga didn't seem to deliberately foul Neymar. The collision appeared unavoidable. However, Zuniga did little to minimize the physicality of the contact. The real fault lies with the official, who simply didn't exert enough control. Unfortunately, this is what happens when the game is not adequately monitored.

  4. Kevin Sims, July 5, 2014 at 2:15 p.m.

    Horrid ... egregious ... reprehensible ... directly from behind with no legit opportunity to make play on the ball ... deliberate raising of the knee ... shame on Zuniga & anybody finding fault with Neymar ... suffered previous excessive foul to knee ... World Cup suffers when most skillful players are put down ... sometimes incidental contact to blame; this time there was malicious intent

  5. Ginger Peeler, July 5, 2014 at 3:43 p.m.

    Shame on the referee for failing to put a stop to such physical play in the beginning. Players learn to "play to the whistle". By the time the ref showed a card, the game was already out of control, players were fouling with abandon, and, of course, people got hurt.

  6. Lou vulovich, July 5, 2014 at 4:05 p.m.

    Anyone who doubts the foul was intentional has no clue whatsoever about soccer. Your intention is irrelevant the result is a dangerous reckless play that
    results in a injury,period. Because referees are calling straight leg tackles over the ball more frequently, you see more and more(s t) players stepping on players ankles and feet to intentionally injure, also a bent knee
    to the back or back of thigh will do the job. FIFA knows this and so do the referees. Where is the outrage from
    the media. Suarez deserved a ban but the player he bit continued to play. Neymar won't be able to and the world cup lost one of only three exciting players. SHAME ON FIFA AND THE SOCCER MEDIA

  7. James Froehlich, July 5, 2014 at 5:57 p.m.

    The game was out of control long before this incident. That ref should be done now and any future WC.

  8. John Polis, July 5, 2014 at 7:08 p.m.

    Of course it was intentional. Not malicious and the damage done turned out to be worse than the foul. But he meant to take out Neymar to keep him from counter attacking. Definitely worth of an unsporting behavior yellow

  9. Lou vulovich, July 5, 2014 at 7:29 p.m.

    There is a reason players are theatrical and take dives, because referees fail to call the game by the rules. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if it is rugby or soccer. Credit to American sports they know how to protect stars. That who people pay to see not players like De Jong and Zuniga. But FIFA hates players who might be bigger then they are. Maradona, Zidane ETC.

  10. James Madison, July 5, 2014 at 8:05 p.m.

    Both teams were playing recklessly, but Brazil the more so, as it had the more athletic players. The odds are that if the CR had set a more conservative standard of play early on, there would have been fewer fouls and conceivably not the encounter that resulted in Neymar's unusually severe injury.

  11. soccer talk, July 5, 2014 at 8:09 p.m.

    Intentional yes, but most fouls are. Z would
    Have went for a knee or ankle if he wanted
    N out of the game. Brazilians chose this
    Physical play and were sorely hurt in the end.
    You reap what you sow. Unfortunate that WC
    Lost a great player.
    Refs should card the theatrical floppers that
    Only slow down the game with such faking.
    American soccer is skillfully lower , but they
    Handle the physicality better than the sissies
    That flail and whine many times with little to
    No contact. This makes the mans game a spectacle. Card em , which by rule refs should if they had the spine.

  12. Santiago 1314, July 5, 2014 at 10:09 p.m.

    Weakest Brazil Team EVER!!! If they weren't playing at Home, that would have been Out, Long Ago.. Sorry for Neymar, was a Typical Knee to Back, Hamstring, Buttocks, that any Player knows how to Deliver... Never seen a Broken Vertibra from one....Tragic for the WC, because we only have Messi and Robben left to WOW us... Still say USA could have Won it if JK had bright a Sub for Jozy.. Change 9 out of the 10 players Jerseys, and you wouldn't know the Difference

  13. Paul Estrada, July 5, 2014 at 11:42 p.m.

    Blah, blah blah, blah blah. Zuniga is not a villain. Yah it was a foul. Get over it already, instead of helping to raise a fervor to have the poor guy assassinated.

  14. TK TK, July 8, 2014 at 9:58 a.m.

    Go after FIFA!!! Its their falut. They instruct the refs to favor certain teams like Brazil. Scolari knows this and tells his team to hit first and hard on every tackle knowing refs will be harsher on opponents than them. Zuniga resorted to only thing left to do in that situation out of frustration. I am 100% sure he did not intend to breal Neymar's back. I am sure FIFA didnt know their tactics were going to backfire like this in taking out one of the tournaments biggest and more importantly upcoming stars. I hate to say it but maybe this is neccesary so FIFA can just let things happen naturally. Pick the best refs in the world so they can manipuate them?? Now nonfavorite teams know what to do if FIFA pulls this shit off again. And if there is any doubt FIFA is coordinating the whole thing look at Brazil's all 5 games so far. Look at all the fouls called and yellow cards. Look at the very first game vs Croatia and Chile who are the more obviously one sided called games. Now look at Netherlands games vs Mexico and Costa Rica. Both cheated big time. Maybe Robben should have been taken out too so Fifa really gets the bigger picture.

  15. Greg Morris, July 8, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.

    Comments about the ref losing control of the match are spot on. Those suggesting that it was all Brazil starting it are laughable and transparent. Both teams committed fouls and as no yellows were shown they got progressively harder. Those suggesting that the foul on Neymar was unavoidable and unintentional are simply being ludicrous. Zuniga went in to foul Neymar hard. He surely did not plan to break his back but he was also not concerned that he could injure him. Neymar was in front of him the entire time, there was nothing accidental about the foul.

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