BRASILIA // According to the legendary Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues, “what we want from football is drama, tragedy, horror, compassion”.
On Friday, Brazil got it all and Saturday it woke up to the aftermath.
“Neymar is out of the Cup” read the headline of Rio-based newspaper Jornal O Globo, alongside a photo of the team’s creative force writhing in agony.
The 22-year-old forward fractured a vertebra in his spine after a high and reckless challenge from Colombia’s Juan Zuniga. Extra, the paper’s supplement, added: “Cowardice takes the Cup”.
Friday was supposed to be a day of celebration after Brazil confirmed their place in the semi-finals with a 2-1 win over Colombia.
But instead of looking forward to a last-four tussle with Germany, all of Brazil was wondering how the national team was to cope without its prolific striker.
“The pain stopped our joy” was the headline in the Correio Braziliense, the daily newspaper printed in the country’s capital, Brasilia.
In Brazil’s five games, Neymar had scored more goals, had more shots and created more chances than any of his teammates. To say the Barcelona forward was the fulcrum of the his side’s attack would be an understatement. He was certainly also the tournament’s poster boy.
Luminaries as diverse as the Brazilian president to LeBron James to Lionel Messi passed on their best wished to Neymar on social media, while Diego Maradona, the Argentina legend, told Venezuela-based Telesur TV network: “It concerns not only the Brazilian people, but all of us who love football. It was his World Cup, in his country. He had great hopes.”
The country’s football daily, Lance!, urged the rest of the selecao to “play for him”, while Juca Kfouri, the venerated Brazilian columnist, was more hopeful, citing the 1962 tournament in which the country triumphed despite losing Pele to injury in only the second game.
“Even against the full national team, the Germans would be favourites,” Kfouri wrote. “Now, without Thiago Silva [who is suspended] and Neymar, the Germans are not only favourites, they are a near certainty, and therein lies the danger – for them. The Brazilian team, free of embarrassment of not reaching the semi-finals, has turned underdog ahead of their mission impossible.”
On the streets of Brasilia, the positivity was resounding. Manuel Branco, wearing the famous yellow No 10 shirt, said he had every confidence Brazil could still win the World Cup.
“Neymar, of course, is an important player, but it is a team game and this is war,” he said. “We must do whatever it takes to win, whether that is with or without Neymar.”
Ricardo Pinto, attending the match with his sister Luciana, said they were both “very angry” and hoped Zuniga would face retrospective punishment.
“It is criminal what he did,” he said. “If Fifa ban Luis Suarez for nine matches, I want to see what they will do to the Colombian.”
Luciana said: “Brazilians are very emotional people so I am convinced it will make the group stronger. They will win the World Cup for him, for Neymar.”
Even the Argentinians, in Brasilia for their own side’s quarter-final with Belgium yesterday, were disappointed by the injury.
“We don’t want to see good players injured,” said Ezequiel Coleman before kick off. “Also, I think Messi is better than Neymar and he would have proved that in the final. Now he won’t have the chance.”
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