Brazil may have won today against Colombia, but they suffered two huge losses in the process. The first, a ridiculously stupid yellow card by Thiago Silva, knocked the captain out of the semifinal with Germany due to a suspension. The second though, announced by a team doctor after the game, is even more devastating. Neymar, the face of the World Cup, has broken a vertebra, ruling him out for the rest of the tournament.
Brazil now faces the harsh reality of a semifinal against Germany without its two most important players. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to be at his best this week getting his other players mentally ready for playing without their superstar, as the Neymar injury will come as an equal blow to the psyche of both the team and the fans. The poster child won’t be there to save them any longer. Players like Hulk, Fred and Oscar will need to be step up their games three or four notches.
Neymar has always been a fragile player on the field, one who was easy to knock around due to his slight build. Teams everywhere would try to stop him by clipping his heels and going body-to-body, hoping he would begin to shy away from contact. The one time I have seen Neymar play in person – the Gold Medal match in London in 2012, when Mexico beat Brazil 2-1 – it was clear that any time Neymar touched the ball, a Mexican was headed straight for his body. He hit the ground time after time. And since then, that’s become the prevalent strategy for defending the young Brazilian.
I believe it is the referee’s duty to protect the players. I’m not advocating for protecting the stars. I’m advocating for protecting players in general. If a team’s strategy involves consistently knocking a player to the ground, that team’s players should be reprimanded. Yellow cards must be shown to discourage the continued use of that tactic. For the most part in this World Cup, referees haven’t gone out of their way to protect Neymar. You might say he rolls around on the ground too often, but there’s a reason he’s always on the ground and it’s not flopping. He gets hit. And the referees haven’t been doing much about it.
Today, referee Carlos Velasco Carballo was determined not to show any yellow cards. As a result, the Colombians were free to play rough with Neymar. There would be no consequences it seemed. And Brazil lashed out in retaliation. The match quickly got out of hand, with fouls piling up by the minute. However, the Spanish referee did nothing. Neymar’s injury came late in the second half from a brutal challenge that had Juan Zuniga kneeing Neymar in the back. The intent was clear, but because of the way the game had been officiated, Zuniga knew there would be no consequences. “It was a typical play,” he said after the game, showing that knocking down Neymar had become the norm in that match.
When fouls pile up, yellow cards need to be handed out, regardless of the time in the game. Keeping 11 men on the field for both sides should not be a goal for the referee. He should want to control the game, keeping things clean. A yellow card for a deliberate, early tackle from Colombia could have sent a message that the referee wasn’t going to mess around today. But instead, he let everything go. That an injury resulted is no surprise, but that it happened to Neymar himself should send a message to FIFA: the referees need to focus on protecting the players on the pitch rather than protecting the cards in their pocket. No referee should be afraid of exerting control.
As big as the loss of Neymar is for Brazil, Thiago Silva’s absence could prove just as devastating. The central defender was excellent today, and showed why many consider him to be the world’s best defender. His yellow card was one you’d expect from a fifth grader, not a seasoned veteran. Stealing the ball from the goalie as he punts it has never been allowed and everyone knows that. So why do you try that in a World Cup quarterfinal with a yellow card already to your name? He deserves to miss the next match for his stupidity alone.
Brazil will now be at a severe disadvantage against Germany and frankly, I don’t think they overcome their losses. They are simply too great. It’s a sad day for soccer fans.
July 4, 2014 at 10:02 pm
Totally agree with you I could count more then 5 knock down and the last blow I felted bad a dream semi final looks more like is for germany for the take. I hope neymar back in track for at least europe season
July 4, 2014 at 10:35 pm
I agree with your for the most part, especially with regards to the protection of the players needing to be a much greater priority. I just think James Rodriguez was kicked around a lot as well, it was definitely a case of taking two to tango in my mind.
Great read nevertheless!
July 4, 2014 at 11:07 pm
While I won’t attempt to defend the referee today – who I think did a pretty terrible job all around, both in this game and in the England-Uruguay group game – I think it’s a bit generous to say that Neymar doesn’t flop. As an example, see the Clasico game earlier this year where he went to ground without being touched, and subsequently earned a penalty for Barca and a red card for Sergio Ramos. And I also think it’s a little generous to Brazil to suggest there fouling was simply a case of retaliation. Especially given their treatment of James Rodriguez and persistent fouling from the get-go, I’d argue that the Colombian players were the ones who were retaliating.
July 4, 2014 at 11:15 pm
Of course Neymar flops. But he’s also knocked to the ground more than anyone in the world right now. The flops might steal the headlines, but the majority of the time he’s on the ground, it’s legitimate. And yes, James Rodriguez was fouled a lot too today, but I think Brazil had to do that to protect their star if the referee wasn’t going to do it. It’s hard to know who was retaliating and who was instigating, but it was clear the referee was at fault for letting it get out of hand. Anyone could have gotten hurt.
July 5, 2014 at 6:33 pm
I actually think it was the other way around…Brazil ignored the ref pretty much from the get go (the situation when one of the players just run away with the ball while the ref was still discussing something with some players instead of waiting for him to give the ball free springs into mind), attacked James Rodriguez very viciously and on top of it dived a lot in the beginning…until the Colombians apparently thought “F… this, if our play gets interrupted all the time for non-fouls, we can just as well do real ones”….then it god really ugly (the kick again Hulk’s knee as well as the scene were Rodriguez was practically knocked out of the air comes to mind).
The yellow card for Silva was symptomatic, too…there was no reason at all to jump into the goalie in this situation (especially not to “protect Neymar”), but he did it nevertheless, because he apparently thought he would get away with it – after all this team got away with a lot during the whole tournament.
In a way, Brazils own rough game-play eventually backfired on them. They were the ones who set the tone for the game. (Though Neymar was in a way the most innocent of them, because he falls lightly (sometimes with good reason) but doesn’t tend to foul himself).
But if you follow the chain, it goes over the ref back to the Fifa, which decided on the soft line and didn’t put a proven ref on a game which was bound to become difficult. But when it comes to which team was more guilty…they were both guilty of ignoring the rules, and just because Brazil is the one with the hurt player, I think it is kind of wrong to pretend that they are not responsible at all for what happened – it could just as well ended up the other way around. There have been a lot of games in which the ref had barely call anything at all, simply because he dealt with two teams which don’t use fouls as the get go solution for every situation.
July 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm
I do agree that Brazil was just as, if not more rough than Colombia was for much of the match. But regarding Neymar, the Colombians did get after him from the start, knocking him to the ground multiple times in the early going. However, I don’t think Colombia is guilty of the injury so much as the referee is. His precedent allowed the game to get out of hand. And yeah, Thiago Silva’s yellow card had no relevance to the rest of the fouls. It was just a case of sheer stupidity.
July 7, 2014 at 4:31 am
I agree with the sentiment that referees need to protect players and if that means yellow cards followed by red then so be it. I think it was clear the referee lost control of this game and that partly explains why Neymar picked up his injury because it turned into a free for all.
However, the real victims were Colombia. They brought free flowing football and attacking flair to this World Cup and were basically fouled into submission by Brazil – who committed the most number of fouls seen at any game in this tournament. Colombia are a better side than Brazil and James Rodriguez was the best player on the pitch by some distance – but from the first minute of the game, he was targeted. How the Brazilian midfielders stayed on the pitch is a miracle – how they didn’t even get a yellow card makes you question the authenticity of the officials.
The other interesting fact is that of “flopping”. I saw an interesting article originating in the Wall Street Journal which stated “During the first 32 games, there were 302 players who could be seen at some point rolling around in pain, crumpling into a fetal position or lying lifeless on the pitch as the referee stopped the match. ” There were nine injuries in total that forced players to be substituted from the game and to miss, or potentially miss, a match. These were discarded. That left 293 cases of potential embellishment. The Team Most Commonly Seen in Anguish: Brazil. World Cup poster boy Neymar had five such “injuries,” the most on his team. In every case he was back on his feet within 15 seconds.”
Clearly Brazil are trying to influence the referees (and it has worked) and Neymar is the chief culprit. So unfortunately, I don’t have any sympathy for him – in fact in some ways it’s an inevitable cry wolf justice. If you keep pretending to be fouled or injured then a frustrated opponent might one day decide to make it real.
July 7, 2014 at 4:25 pm
totally agree with you… would actually be awesome if a player get 2 knocks in the act of attacking, the 3rd automatic yellow, and it doesn’t matter who or the gravity.