RIO DE JANEIRO — The fireworks celebrating victory had barely subsided when the disastrous news came through for Brazil: Neymar is out. The star who lit up the World Cup with his skill and sunny temperament fractured a bone in his back. The only way for Brazil to win now will be without him.
The home side muscled past Colombia 2-1 on Friday into the semifinals. But making the step from there to the July 13 final will be much harder for Brazil without its 22-year-old goal scorer.
Team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said Neymar fractured his third vertebra when he was kneed in the back by Colombia defender Juan Camilo Zuniga in the 86th minute. Brazil has shown grit under the intense pressure of home expectation. But getting past its next opponent — Germany — will be a big task without the genius of Neymar.
“He will not be in condition to play; he will need a few weeks to be fit again,” said Lasmar, who said Neymar was not expected to need surgery. “He is very, very sad.”
Germany beat France earlier 1-0.
After swashbuckling, end-to-end games in earlier stages of soccer’s showcase, Friday’s quarterfinals won’t be remembered as classics. But they were instructive. The enduring image will be that of Neymar being gingerly rolled onto a stretcher and carried away in pain, crying.
“It’s a big loss for us,” Brazil midfielder Fernandinho said. “We need to find a way to stay together and become stronger after losing our greatest player. We will try to win this World Cup, and for sure we will dedicate it to Neymar.”
Incredibly for teams that have won eight World Cups between them, the Germany-Brazil semifinal Tuesday in Belo Horizonte will be just the second time the nations have met at the showcase tournament. Brazil won the first meeting: 2-0 in the World Cup final of 2002.
As well as Neymar, Brazil will also be missing Thiago Silva, its captain, after he picked up his second yellow card of the tournament for fouling Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.
But Neymar is the biggest soccer star in Brazil, and one of the biggest at the tournament, along with Argentina forward Lionel Messi. Neymar’s face has been plastered on billboards and shown on television continuously, leading many of his staunchest supporters to copy his dyed-blonde fauxhawk.
“Everybody knew that Neymar would be hunted,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “It’s been happening in the last three matches and we had been talking about it. But nobody listens to us.”
Friday’s match ended with 54 fouls in total — 31 by Brazil and 23 by Colombia. Scolari said Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo should have done more to take control of the match.
While Brazil’s match was a scratchy, high-octane affair, Germany’s win over France at Rio’s Maracana Stadium was methodical.
Defenders scored three of the four goals Friday. France’s forward line came up empty and Brazil-Colombia didn’t quite live up to its billing as a battle of Rodriguez versus Neymar.
Mats Hummels headed in Germany’s winner in the 13th minute.
Brazil’s center-back pairing of Silva and David Luiz got the goals that meant they have still yet to lose when Scolari has started them together. Luiz’s goal was the most spectacular of the day — a free-kick Brazilians call a “dry leaf,” because it arched over Colombia’s defense and back down past Ospina. Silva’s opener for Brazil came off his knee in the seventh minute.
Brazil sent home one of the most exciting teams and its electric young talent, James Rodriguez, who put Colombia on the score sheet and made the last 15 minutes uncomfortable for Brazil with a calmly taken penalty that took his tournament-leading tally of goals to six.
Germany lacked zip in beating a France team that lacked self-belief. Heat and also a cold bug that swept through Germany’s team after it beat Algeria 2-1 to reach the quarterfinals appeared to take their toll. Coach Joachim Loew earlier said one-third of his players complained of sore throats, and Hummels ran a fever.
“Brutally hot,” said German captain Philipp Lahm.
At a World Cup where substitutes have starred, scoring a tournament-record 29 goals so far, France got no spark off its bench. Coach Didier Deschamps’ introduction of forward Loic Remy for deep midfielder Yohan Cabaye did not work. Striker Olivier Giroud’s cameo in the 85th minute also was too late to make a difference.