Brazil took on their toughest challenge of the world cup today and passed with flying colors, doing what many people, myself included, thought they wouldn’t be able to do–stop James Rodríguez and Colombia. They finally played like one would expect them to play, dominating this game basically from start to finish, and punching their ticket to the World Cup semi-finals. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for them or their fans to enjoy this win, as news leaked out shortly after the game that their star player, Neymar, will miss the rest of the tournament with a fractured vertebrae in his lower back. Let’s review the game, and the impact the injury might have on the rest of Brazil’s World Cup.
The injury might be the bigger story, but we really need to talk about how Brazil played in this game. As I mentioned when I previewed this game, they hadn’t quite played up to their potential in the Group Stage, or the round of 16. In this game, we finally got treated to watching Brazil play like Brazil, and, despite the fact that I was rooting for Colombia, I was impressed. Brazil got the scoring started in the 7th minute, when Neymar fired a perfect corner to the back post, where Thiago Silva had snuck away from his defender, Carlos Sánchez. Silva simply one-timed the ball softly into the net for a 1-0 lead.
The second goal was even sweeter for Brazil. After the first goal, the two teams fought tooth and nail all game long, with Brazil unable to capitalize on several chances, and Colombia struggling to get any real chances at all. Brazil looked crisp, though and Hulk was playing with an aggressiveness and a conviction we hadn’t seen since maybe early in the game against Croatia. In the 68th minute, all that hard play was rewarded with a free kick just outside the box. David Luiz hit a perfect ball into the top right corner of the goal and past a diving David Ospina for a 2-0 lead. Ospina actually made a big mistake on the play, setting up the line to protect the left side of the goal, but not covering the right properly. When Luiz kicked it right, it was like Ospina didn’t see it well because of his bad positioning, and he had no chance. I am not taking anything away from Luiz’s kick, but Ospina got a hand on it. With proper positioning, he might have saved it. Tim Howard would have!
Overall, this was a very physical game, and I believe the ref was at least partially to blame. He basically refused to hand out any cards early in this game, and the two teams had amassed 40 fouls by the time Luiz had his deciding free kick. By the time all was said and done, the two South American nations had combined for 54 fouls. I say the ref is to blame for the level of aggressiveness from both teams in this game, because he allowed an environment to develop where fouls were OK because they were not sufficiently punished. No yellow cards were handed out until Silva got one in the 64th minute, and that one came on one of the dumbest plays of the tournament, when Silva hit Ospina from behind as he was kicking the ball down the field after a save. After that, three more yellows were handed out–one in the 67th minute to Rodríguez, one in the 69th to Mario Yepes of Colombia and the last in the 78th to Júlio César of Brazil. By then, it was too late to curtail the physical nature of this contest.
That yellow for César actually led to Colombia’s goal. Carlos Bacca lost his defender and basically ended up one on one with César, who then tackled him in the box. The ball got by César, but wasn’t headed towards the goal, so he got lucky it wasn’t a red. Either way, Colombia was rewarded with a penalty kick, and James put it in the net after a nice fake that sent César sprawling. It was James’ 6th goal of this tournament, and he will exit it as the current leading scorer, and he is only the sixth player to ever score in his first five World Cup games, joining Leônidas (Brazil), György Sárosi (Hungary), Just Fontaine (France), Teófilo Cubillas (Portugal) and Gerd Müller (Germany) as the only six men to ever do that . It’s too bad he won’t get a chance to add to that total, as he has truly been a revelation in this cup.
OK. Now we can talk about Neymar. In the 86th minute, the star of the Brazilian team took a knee to the middle of the back from Juan Camilo Zúñiga of Colombia, and, as I mentioned earlier, ended up with a fractured vertebrae in his lower back. While I wouldn’t call this a purposeful and premeditated attack, it was a pretty reckless and careless challenge by Zuniga, and should have been a red card. Furthermore, he should probably get a suspension. If Luis Suárez can get one for a bite, breaking someone’s back with a reckless knee should probably merit one as well. No call was made on the pitch, although I think that was because someone else on Brazil was down on the opposite side of the field. At first, I thought Neymar was doing his typical overreacting and time wasting routine, but when the cameras showed him laying almost motionless on his stomach, and medical personnel immediately ran onto the field with a stretcher, one got the feeling that something was very wrong. Neymar was cautiously loaded onto the stretcher and carried all the way into the tunnel, which was another bad sign. Later in the night, the news of his injury came.
Will FIFA investigate this challenge by Zúñiga?
Allow me to leave no doubt in your minds. This is a devastating injury for this Brazil team. I made the comment yesterday that they had, so far in this cup, been “Neymar and the gang,” and now Neymar is gone. You don’t ever hear about the gang from Kool and the Gang coming out with their own album, do you? No. Well, no one’s grooving tonight in Brazil, because they might be in serious trouble against Germany, especially when you add in the fact that Silva’s idiotic yellow card leaves him on the bench for the Germany game as well. Brazil could be in a lot of trouble. They are going to need Hulk, Fred and Oscar to step up if they have any hope of scoring goals against Germany’s tough defense. The Brazilian defense will also have to keep playing at a high level to take pressure off of the offense. I’ll have more of a real preview of this game early next week, but Brazil could be in a lot of trouble.
I don’t want Brazil to win this World Cup, but I certainly didn’t want them to lose this way. I wouldn’t want Argentina to lose without Messi either. There’s no fun in the best team losing because they aren’t at their best. Neymar is truly a treat to watch every time he takes the pitch, and it’s a shame we won’t be able to see him play anymore in this tournament. Talk about a downer for Brazil and their fans.
Featured image courtesy of: Fabrizio Bensch/AP
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