Jul 07, 2014

    Blame your teammates, Neymar


    A COLOMBIAN defender named Juan Camilo Zuniga may have ended Brazilian star Neymar's World Cup, but the latter's own teammates were equally to blame.

    Fernandinho and the referee Carlos Velasco Carballo are the culprits. They did not commit the crime, but they contributed to an environment of lawlessness that led to Neymar being battered.

    From the first minute it appeared that Brazil was determined to play the game cynically, tripping, pushing and kicking at Colombia's players, especially James Rodriguez, the team's wunderkind scorer.

    When Rodriguez went to claim the ball, Brazil's Oscar ran right into his back.

    Soon after that, Fernandinho, a midfielder who often plays with an edge, slammed into Rodriguez again. Velasco Carballo blew his whistle and called a foul but did not show Fernandinho a yellow card.

    He was called for four fouls in just the first half of the game, three of them significant hacks at Rodriguez. But the referee gave him no penalty.

    This was not a new role for Fernandinho. He committed six fouls in Brazil's previous game (two more than the number of passes he completed), a difficult victory over Chile in a shoot-out.

    Brazil then committed nine of the first 11 fouls in the second half, hacking and pounding on the Colombians despite already holding a 1-0 lead. It was not hard to predict that at some point, Brazil's top star, Neymar, would become a target.

    It was in the 57th minute, though, that the match began to boil over. The Colombians were clearly infuriated when Silva crushed Ramos from behind as he went towards a ball. The referee, again, declined to whistle a foul.

    His lenience served as an elastic band on the game, encouraging the players, especially the Brazilians, to try to see just how much contact they could get away with on Rodriguez without being punished.

    By the time the game reached its closing moments, the Colombians - who saw Brazil commit 31 of the tournament-high 54 fouls in the game - surely felt they were owed the proverbial pound of flesh.

    They got it, then, with Zuniga's challenge on Neymar, though it is hard to believe Zuniga was looking to cause the sort of damage he inflicted.

    Taking a whack at an attacking player who is awaiting a bouncing or floating ball is standard fare: Rodriguez was hit high, low and in between multiple times.

    In the 87th minute, the ball came near, Zuniga put his knee into Neymar's back and Neymar crumpled, his World Cup suddenly over.

    It was unfortunate and sad, and, afterwards, Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and other Brazilian officials were incensed. Much of their frustration was directed at Zuniga, with the rest being sent towards the referee.

    "Everybody knew that Neymar would be hunted," Scolari said. "It's been happening in the last three matches, and we had been talking about it. But nobody listens to us."

    Those emotions were understandable. But if Scolari was truly being honest with himself, he must look inward, too. Brazil has not showcased jogo bonito here, has not displayed the "beautiful game" that it is known for playing. It has played ugly and rugged and rough.

    That is Scolari's choice. And on Friday it was Scolari's players - Neymar's teammates - who created the environment that ultimately sent Brazil's superstar home.