It felt like two victories for Germany in a single day: first France, then Neymar and Thiago Silva. When Felipe Scolari spoke doubtfully at the press conference after the 2-1 win over Colombia about Neymar's chances of making Tuesday's semi-final, it sounded like an attempt to distract the room from the rough contest it had just witnessed.
Then within half an hour it was announced that the Brazilian playmaker’s back injury was indeed severe enough to rule him out of the tournament.
Scolari had suggested Neymar was in tears with the pain, and Brazil's team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar confirmed he had sustained a fractured vertebra when Juan Zuniga kneed him in the back near the end of the quarter-final, forcing him off the field on a stretcher. "It's not serious in the sense that it doesn't need surgery, but he'll need to immobilise it to recover," said Lasmar. "Unfortunately, he's not going to be able to play."
In the mixed zone, Chelsea midfielder Oscar admitted Brazil would miss their best player. "Whoever comes in in his place has to play as part of the team and beat Germany. The best thing we do is play as a team and I just hope that whoever comes in plays well," he said.
Zuniga, who will become public enemy number one in Brazil, was sorry but not exactly apologetic. “It was a normal move,” he said. “I never meant to hurt a player. I was on the field, playing for the shirt from my country, not without the intent to injure. I was just defending my shirt.”
Considering Brazil had spent almost the entire match in Fortaleza in the lead, it was a bitter way for their semi-final hopes to unravel. The Neymar blow was made doubly difficult after the suspension suffered by Thiago Silva, who was booked for a stupid challenge on goalkeeper David Ospina in the 64th minute. During a game in which many bad tackles went unpunished the yellow card seemed almost unreal.
“I am emotional because I give the team my heart and soul,” Brazil’s captain said in a televised interview. “I am out the next game but Dante and Henrique can play well and fill my absence.”
Scolari was livid at what he saw at the strange discrepancy between the referee’s treatment of Silva and that of Zuniga. “Not even a yellow card, nothing,” he said of Zuniga’s challenge. ”For Thiago, who was running in front of the goalkeeper, he gets a yellow card, so we can’t understand some things.
“But everyone knows Neymar was going to be hunted. For three matches that has been happening and we have been saying that, but no one thinks that is the case. People think Germany, these or the others, only they are hunted but not Neymar.”
After a game in which Brazil had displayed most of the muscle, with Fernandinho almost laughably seeing through 90 minutes without being booked, you couldn’t help thinking that was a bit rich from Scolari. Then he took us all by surprise in a nuanced criticism of the refereeing in which he suggested his own players had got away too lightly too.
“I think we also participated in one or two moments when our players were tougher than they should be,” he said. “He could have probably stopped both our and their violent game.”
Scolari was speaking before confirmation that Neymar was ruled out, but in fearing the worst he tried to strike an upbeat note: “We are in a situation that is slightly difficult for the Germany match but we have great players. If everything has to be changed then we’ll do that and I think we will have a great game.”
Scolari’s opposite number, José Pekerman, might have been expected to criticise some of what he had seen, but he spoke in a measured and almost intellectual way about tension and intensity, rather than foul play.
“This was a match where we were going to have balance as we had very good players on both sides,” he said. “When that happens, what happens is that you create friction because of the competitiveness because each one wants to win the duel, the position, the area and then it leads to some friction…
“The tension was very high. Brazil needed the victory, we aspired always for the victory and in every play there was a lot of intensity. That sort of interrupted the game. These are two teams that can develop a very good football match, but sometimes this balance produces that sort of thing, that there are faults and that these good players cannot find continuity because of fouls.
“It seems to me that the same thing happened to both teams. We sort of lost the fluidity of the game because of that friction or intensity.”