Neymar is out of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra, and the player who fouled him is defending his name.
Juan Zuniga put his knee into Neymar’s back in the 87th minute of Colomba’s 2-1 loss to Brazil, and his post-match quotes suggest there was retaliation behind the foul.
“I never meant to hurt a player,” Zuniga said. “I was just defending my shirt.”
“Defending my shirt” likely refers to payback for the constant thumping the Colombian players – specifically James Rodriguez – were taking during the match, most of which went unpunished.
There were 54 fouls called during the match, but Spanish referee Carlos Velasco seemed to have left his yellow card back in the hotel room. He didn’t produce a single yellow until the 64th minute, at which point over 40 fouls had been called.
And that yellow was for a simple – and stupid – goalkeeper interference by Thiago Silva. There wasn’t a yellow for a truly hard foul until the 67th minute – when Rodriguez himself was cautioned for his first foul of the game.
On the other hand, Rodriguez was fouled six times during the match, most of which were violent poundings, but none resulted in yellow cards.
With Brazil’s assault going largely unpunished, Zuniga and Colombia felt they had to retaliate. While they probably didn’t intend on breaking bones, there was a need to return the favor and show the Brazilians they wouldn’t go down quietly.
Then they broke Neymar’s back.
Much of this can be placed squarely on referee Velasco’s shoulders. There is much to be said for a referee gaining control of a match early, and that clearly didn’t happen in this match.
That was evident from the get-go, when in the 25th minute, a small scuffle began to erupt on the pitch. The referee went to break up the melee, when Colombia siezed the opportunity to take a quick – and cheap – free kick. Any competent referee would have stopped play, returned to the scuffle, and ended the threat before allowing the game to continue. But Velasco simply allowed the kick to count, catching half the players on the field by surprise. It nearly led to a chance on goal.
The Colombian players never should have retaliated in such a violent manner, but if the referee had seized control of the match early on, it wouldn’t have come to this.