5 July 2014 17:35
The challenge that ruled Brazil star Neymar out of the remainder of the FIFA World Cup is being assessed by FIFA’s disciplinary committee.
During the closing stages of Friday’s often-feisty 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia in Fortaleza, the Barcelona forward sustained a fractured vertebra due to a robust challenge from Juan Camilo Zuniga.
Zuniga’s knee made contact with Neymar’s back and the defender simultaneously pushed his opponent to the floor via the back of the neck, but the incident went unpunished by Carlos Velasco Carballo amid a lenient performance throughout from the Spanish referee.
Napoli’s Zuniga insists he meant Neymar no harm, but the severity of the injury sustained by the host nation’s 22-year-old World Cup poster boy has led to calls for FIFA to take retrospective action, something the organisation’s head of media has not ruled out.
Speaking at a press conference, Delia Fischer said: “The disciplinary committee is analysing the matter. The spirit of fair play is very important and we want to avoid difficult things on the field of play.”
A FIFA statement later confirmed Carballo’s take on the flashpoint will be key to any potential punishment sent Zuniga’s way.
A spokesperson for world football’s governing body told Perform: “We are awaiting the official match reports and we will gather as well as analyse all the necessary elements in order to evaluate the matter.”
Brazil’s all-time World Cup leading goalscorer Ronaldo told a press conference in Rio that he believed there was malice in Zuniga’s actions.
“The challenge was a very violent one – I believe there was an intention by the Colombian player to cause some harm,” said the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid striker, who led his country’s attack at three World Cups.
“I don’t think it was normal football play, I don’t know whether he had planned this beforehand but I do believe it was very aggressive, very violent.”
This assessment was very much at odds with Zuniga’s thoughts when he spoke to reporters after the match.
Zuniga defended the challenge, saying he had not deliberately hurt Neymar.
The 28-year-old said: “It was a normal move, I never meant to hurt a player. I was on the field, playing for the shirt from my country, not intending to injure anyone. I was just defending my shirt.”