Juan Zuniga suggests Neymar injury was retaliation for repeated Brazilian fouling

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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.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.