FORTALEZA, Brazil – It was an enormous win for Brazil, but it came at a gigantic cost.
Brazil on Friday powered to an impressive 2-1 quarterfinal victory over upstart Colombia at Estadio Castelao, setting off another round of raucous nationwide partying. But the noise and jubilation proved short-lived, as it was revealed after the game that Neymar — the country’s best player and biggest star — would miss the rest of the World Cup after injuring his back in the dying minutes of the hugely physical game.
The Brazilian team has had only one goal this summer: to win the country’s sixth World Cup trophy while playing on home soil. The victory Friday was an important step, setting up a semifinal Tuesday against powerful Germany.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said he and his players always expected Germany would stand in their path to the trophy. But the challenge appeared to become much steeper late Friday as the extent of Neymar’s injury was revealed.
“He was crying out in pain,” Scolari said of Neymar. “It won’t be easy for him to recover, based on what the doctor told us and the pain he’s in.”
Minutes after Scolari’s postgame news conference, doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said Neymar had suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back. Lasmar said the injury would not require surgery but would take three to four weeks to heal.
It was a huge blow to the team, the country and the tournament. Neymar, 22, has had his face plastered on billboards and shown in television commercials since well before the tournament. For such a young player, he was shouldering a huge amount of responsibility.
But he had delivered on the hype. Neymar scored four goals in the tournament, and he provided the assist on Thiago Silva’s opening goal in the seventh minute Friday night. Brazil doubled its lead on David Luiz’s free kick in the 69th minute and held on after James Rodríguez’s 80th-minute penalty kick for Colombia.
It was a high-stakes game, and play grew increasingly intense as the game wore on, with both Neymar and Rodríguez, another 22-year-old attacking star, who finished the tournament with six goals, taking several hard fouls. There were 54 fouls called in the game, the highest total of any match in the tournament. Scolari acknowledged that both teams probably played with too much physicality, but he said the referee, Velasco Carballo, did not do enough to control the tenor of the game.
With about five minutes left to play, Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zúñiga went airborne on a loose ball and ended up driving his knee into the lower back of Neymar, who crumpled to the turf. Neymar’s teammates could be seen signaling to the bench for a substitution as a stretcher was brought onto to the field. He was taken to a hospital, where a crowd of fans soon formed.
Colombia coach José Pékerman said the physical play was the product of two evenly matched teams playing a critical game.
“It seemed to me the same thing happened with both teams,” Pékerman said. “We lost the fluidity to the game because of that friction and intensity.”
Brazil captain Silva also will miss the semifinal, because of yellow cards. Scolari said he thought his team still could win. “There are seven steps, and we’ve already climbed five,” he said.