Brazil in 'emotional turmoil' as Neymar final rumour denied
Superstar tells team-mates to win World Cup for him, amid claims he will make shock comeback
Brazilian poster boy Neymar has managed to stay centre stage at the World Cup, despite being ruled out of the tournament with a serious back injury, as he held back tears in an emotional video message to fans in the aftermath of Brazil's quarter-final triumph over Colombia on Friday night.
The 22-year-old Barcelona star suffered a fractured vertebrae in his back in a heavy challenge from Colombian Juan Zuniga in the closing stages of the game.
There was panic in the aftermath of the injury as Neymar told team mates he could not feel his legs. He was taken from the pitch on a stretcher and rushed to hospital in a wheelchair where the fracture was revealed.
However, the injury is not thought to be career threatening and there have even been rumours in an overwrought Brazilian press that Neymar would try and play a part in the final by taking pain-killing injections, reports the Daily Telegraph. They have been played down by the Brazil camp.
In his emotional video message, recorded before he was flown to his home town of Sao Paulo by helicopter to begin his recuperation, Neymar reassures fans that the Brazil squad will find the strength to carry on without him.
"I told my teammates to do everything in order to help me achieve my dream to be world champion," he announces. "My dream was to play at a World Cup final but I’m certain my teammates will be champions."
He will be missed by the fans as well as his team-mates. "Brazil without Neymar is like Rio de Janeiro without Christ the Redeemer," says Henry Winter in the Daily Telegraph. "Still good, still enjoyable, but definitely missing a star attraction, a major reference point."
The injury has thrown Brazil into "emotional turmoil" says Matt Dickinson in The Times, and he notes that the squad held a meeting with a sports psychologist on Sunday to discuss their loss.
Everyone wants to talk about Neymar, though. When two of the candidates to replace him in the teams Willian and Bernard, faced the media on Sunday, "in half an hour of questions, Neymar was referenced, every single time," reports Daniel Taylor in The Guardian.
But they must move on. "Brazil are not going to get past Germany in Tuesday’s semi-final by feeling sorry for themselves," he adds.
Yet while the tournament goes on, the punishment meted out to Neymar, and his opposite number James Rodriguez, during the match between Brazil and Colombia is a cause for concern.
"We cannot go back to the days when the best player got kicked out of the tournament, maybe out of the game, while the world watched and shrugged pitilessly," says Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. "We cannot let what Maradona had to deal with at the height of his career happen again."
He notes that the last World Cup final was a dirty game and fears that when the stakes get high football regresses to the "dark times" when the playmakers would be targeted with violence.