Monday, July 7, 2014

WorldCup Drama: The Heavy Loss of Neymar

Marcelo went to the aid of his teammate Neymar, who sustained a fractured vertebra when he took a knee in the back from Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zúñiga. Credit Leonhard Foeger/Reuters        
A Colombian defender named Juan Camilo Zúñiga ended the World Cup for the Brazilian star striker Neymar on Friday with a nasty knee into Neymar’s back that fractured one of his vertebrae. It was an ugly play and a bad foul. It deserved, at least, a yellow card.

Yet within any game, there is always a road map to every flash point. The beauty of soccer’s continuous flow is that one thing leads to another (and another and another), and that makes it possible to trace a path to a game’s most memorable moment. In a game like Friday’s, doing so makes it easier to see where things went wrong.
So what happened to Neymar? How did the face of this tournament end up in a hospital? Brazilian fans will not like to hear it, but while Zúñiga was directly responsible for causing Neymar’s injury, Neymar’s teammates — specifically Fernandinho, though there were others — as well as the referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, deserve their share of the blame, too. They did not commit the crime, but they contributed to an environment of lawlessness that led to Neymar’s being battered.
If that sounds harsh, consider that Brazil’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, made a point of saying before the game that there was no historical rivalry between Brazil and Colombia and that games between the teams were “friendly matches.” Thiago Silva, the captain, said that playing against Colombia’s considerable skill players would make for a cleaner, more fluid game.
Yet from the first minute it appeared that Brazil was determined to play the game cynically, tripping and pushing and kicking at Colombia’s players, especially James Rodríguez, the team’s wunderkind scorer. Colombia, on the other hand, seemed almost deferential at first. When Neymar went off on a spirited run six minutes into the game, the Colombian defenders did little to try to knock him off stride, let alone scythe him to the ground as previous opponents had done. He ran freely.
When Rodríguez went to claim the ball a few minutes later, however, Brazil’s Óscar ran right into Rodríguez’s back as if to make clear to him that no space on the Fortaleza field would be a safe space. Rodríguez’s teammates were understandably upset, but there was no retaliation — the feeling of violence in the game, especially early on, came almost exclusively from Brazil.

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