Colombian defender Juan Zúñiga is coming under scrutiny from FIFA after his brutal attack on Brazil superstar Neymar, which sent the striker out of the World Cup with a fractured vertebrae. The incident is being regarded as one of the most violent of this or any World Cup and some believe that it was intentional.
Zúñiga has spoken up trying to defend his name, but he is considered public enemy number on, after crippling the biggest Brazilian star. The Colombian player suggested the clash was payback for all the unpunished fouls on his team, especially those against forward James Rodriguez.
“I never meant to hurt a player,” Zúñiga said after the match that ended Colombia’s magical run. “I was just defending my shirt.”
We can interpret “defending my shirt” in many ways, but many believe it to be retaliation and frustration at the lack of calls from the ref in Colombia’s favor. In all, there were 54 fouls during the match that ultimately Zúñiga sent Neymar to the hospital, but Spanish referee Carlos Velasco was reluctant to show the yellow.
The first foul was called at the 64th minute, after 40 fouls had been declared by the Spaniard. James — who was constantly hit and had no foul calls for those — got the first true foul call in the 67th minute.
Many observers are suggesting the lack of calls against Brazil were favoritism for the local, which doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody. FIFA has come under scrutiny itself for similar behavior in past World Cups.
As things escalated in the decisive match, Zúñiga and Colombia felt they had to take matters into their own hands and that is when the hit on Neymar happened. Viewers on television, online, and live at the Estádio Castelão in Fortaleza held their breath, as the Brazilian was seen in clear distress and was carried off with a stretcher minutes later.
There is no excuse for the behavior shown by Juan Zúñiga on Friday. However, much of the blame can be placed squarely on referee Velasco’s shoulders. Almost from the start, the Spaniard did not have control of the match and was apparently trying to protect Brazil’s narrow lead.
Now the 22-year-old Neymar is out of the World Cup — a huge blow for Brazil ahead of the semifinal against Germany — a heavy favorite. If Velasco would have been fair with his calls, maybe Zúñiga wouldn’t have been driven to his cheap shot that landed the Brazilian in the hospital. By the by, some reports indicate that if Zúñiga hit Neymar an inch higher, he could have potentially paralyzed him.
It truly a shame that Juan Zúñiga chose to behave in such a cowardly fashion, as it erases all the good that Colombia did during the 2014 World Cup. The South Americans became one of everyone’s favorite teams for their excellent football skills.
We will await to see what FIFA’s ruling is regarding Juan Zúñiga’s unforgivable foul on Neymar, and whether they will place any blame on Velasco. It is doubtful that the Spanish referee will be admonished, but we could yet be surprised.
[Image via Twitter]