Brazil survive Colombia’s onslaught, lose Neymar due to back injury

Brazil downed Colombia 2-1 to earn a berth in the World Cup semifinals in a frantic and at times lawless match at Fortaleza on Friday night. But the news after the match stole all the headlines.

Brazilian starlet Neymar will miss the rest of the World Cup after breaking a vertebra, Brazil’s team doctor confirmed after the match. The Barcelona playmaker was kneed in the back by Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zuniga, and was in tears when he was carried off the field on a stretcher.

He was taken to a private clinic for tests and team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said the star striker had fractured his third vertebra. ”He will not be in condition to play, he will need a few weeks to be fit again,” Lasmar said. ”He is very, very sad.” Lasmar said Neymar will not have to undergo surgery and is not expected to remain hospitalized.

The 22-year-old forward is Brazil’s biggest star and had scored four goals for the team so far in his first World Cup.

Durin the match, Thiago Silva and David Luiz paced the hosts, and while James Rodriguez would grab one back with a goal from the spot late, it could not prevent the hosts from booking a date with Germany on July 8.

MONEY ISN'T EVERYTHING

This was a more assured show from Brazil on Friday night, and deserved in the end on the number of chances the hosts created. But there will again be questions over the officiating in this tournament, as Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo seemed overwhelmed by the occasion, allowing the game to descend into a foul-strewn affair that benefited the hosts’ style of play.

”This is a very tough moment for us,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. ”We always had the dream of winning this match even though we knew Brazil would be a very tough opponent. We knew how decisive this was, and that any mistake would cost us.”

Colombia came into the match as one of the hottest teams in the tournament, a free-scoring aggregation led by the young and deadly Rodriguez. Brazil, on the other hand, had been taken to penalty kicks in their Round of 16 match by Chile and were under intense pressure. Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari had told his critics to “go to hell,” in a pre-game presser, and the team was being ripped by local media for crying after its tight victory vs. Chile. How grim was the buildup? Let’s just say that the local police were girding for the possibility of an upset in a nation already on edge.

This ignored history. Colombia had never beaten Brazil in Brazil, and the last time the two sides met, the best they could do was force a 1-1 draw. Even with some young stars and a go-for-broke attitude, this was never going to be a cakewalk for them, and right away, Brazil reminded the Colombians whom they were playing, with Fernandinho dishing out a crunching tackle on Rodriguez that went unpunished by Carballo.

Carballo in fact allowed Brazil to foul Rodriguez repeatedly, with Fernandinho and Paulinho the persistent offenders. He would also allow the hosts to flagrantly infringe on a Colombian freekick. It did go both ways at times — Juan Zuniga was fortunate to escape a booking when he went in studs-up on Hulk’s knee just before the break — but it was hard to escape the sense that Carballo was cowed. Known as a disciplinarian in La Liga, this was a curious performance all around — and the latest poor showing from Spain in this World Cup.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Brazil built on their advantages with a dream start, capitalizing on a Colombian mistake. Thiago Silva kneed the ball in after just seven minutes when Neymar served in a corner kick that eluded everyone save the Paris Saint-Germain defender. Carlos Sanchez was torched on the play, and in truth it was a sloppy goal all around — originally meant for the head of David Luiz, the ball skidded in and bounced, only for Thiago Silva to find he had acres of space.

That open space would continue to be a theme in this game as Colombia rarely pressured Brazil on the ball, preferring to go forward whenever possible. But it was Brazil who had by far the better chances, with Julio Cesar only seriously worried once, when Juan Cuadrado saw his shot deflected by Thiago Silva, wide of the keeper’s near post. Hulk was a terror, linking up with Marcelo down the far flank to force David Ospina into a series of big saves. In the 20th minute, Ospina was forced to make two big plays, first denying Hulk at his near post with a parry, but only as far out as the edge of the area, where Oscar slammed back in the rebound. Ospina gratefully held it.

Not until the second half did Carballo reach into his pocket, and when the cards came, Brazil was stung hardest. Thiago Silva was carded for blocking off Ospina, and he will now miss the semifinal against Germany — a big blow for the hosts. It was a stupid card to take, and you saw Scolari’s head dip on the sideline when it was raised. Julio Cesar was luckier to escape with just a yellow in the 78th minute, when he fouled Carlos Bacca to concede the penalty.

Luiz converted a free-kick in the 68th on another curious play. Rodriguez was booked for an alleged tackle on Hulk — though no contact was actually made. It was a bitter booking considering that Rodriguez had been fouled all night without any reproach, and when David Luiz slammed home the ball from 35 yards out, the Colombians were absolutely incensed. David Luiz’ free-kick was a delight — swerving shot into the top corner of the net to beat Ospina — but it deepened the sense of injustice the Colombians surely felt.

Rodriguez finally was able to nick one back on that penalty, becoming the second youngest player, behind only the great Pele, to score six goals at the World Cup. And it set up a mad scramble to the finish that took an ugly turn when Neymar had to be removed on a stretcher after a clash with Zuniga.

Without Neymar, Brazil will undoubtedly struggle against Germany. Brail are unlikely to draw the Germans into the kind of kicking and shoving that marred this game and will need real creativity. Chile and Colombia have exposed their weaknesses. Whether Germany can capitalize on Brazil’s lack of creativity on the wings remains to be seen next week.