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Juan Zuniga suggests Neymar injury was retaliation for repeated Brazilian fouling

Jul 4, 2014, 8:38 PM EDT

ZunigaNeymar AP

Neymar is out of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra, and the player who fouled him is defending his name.

Juan Zuniga put his knee into Neymar’s back in the 87th minute of Colomba’s 2-1 loss to Brazil, and his post-match quotes suggest there was retaliation behind the foul.

“I never meant to hurt a player,” Zuniga said. “I was just defending my shirt.”

“Defending my shirt” likely refers to payback for the constant thumping the Colombian players – specifically James Rodriguez – were taking during the match, most of which went unpunished.

There were 54 fouls called during the match, but Spanish referee Carlos Velasco seemed to have left his yellow card back in the hotel room. He didn’t produce a single yellow until the 64th minute, at which point over 40 fouls had been called.

And that yellow was for a simple – and stupid – goalkeeper interference by Thiago Silva.  There wasn’t a yellow for a truly hard foul until the 67th minute – when Rodriguez himself was cautioned for his first foul of the game.

On the other hand, Rodriguez was fouled six times during the match, most of which were violent poundings, but none resulted in yellow cards.

With Brazil’s assault going largely unpunished, Zuniga and Colombia felt they had to retaliate. While they probably didn’t intend on breaking bones, there was a need to return the favor and show the Brazilians they wouldn’t go down quietly.

Then they broke Neymar’s back.

Much of this can be placed squarely on referee Velasco’s shoulders. There is much to be said for a referee gaining control of a match early, and that clearly didn’t happen in this match.

That was evident from the get-go, when in the 25th minute, a small scuffle began to erupt on the pitch. The referee went to break up the melee, when Colombia siezed the opportunity to take a quick – and cheap – free kick.  Any competent referee would have stopped play, returned to the scuffle, and ended the threat before allowing the game to continue. But Velasco simply allowed the kick to count, catching half the players on the field by surprise. It nearly led to a chance on goal.

The Colombian players never should have retaliated in such a violent manner, but if the referee had seized control of the match early on, it wouldn’t have come to this.

  1. gmkr1979 - Jul 4, 2014 at 9:02 PM

    As much as Zuñiga was at fault because he actually did it, I couldn’t agree more about the referee. While Brazil did use roughhouse tactics against Colombia, the ref did nothing about it, and all of us Colombian fans were upset about it. Now because of it, Brazil may not have a chance against Germany without Neymar. Our own referee from Colombia was a disgrace disallowing two goals with Mexico’s game against Cameroon! I also think that goal Yepes slammed home should have counted. There was no offsides call originally, ONLY when Yepes kicked it in. Anyway, what’s done is done. I hold my head up high with pride as a Colombian-American. Colombia did awesome in the tournament, and there’s no shame in what they did. James is our future “Pibe”, perhaps even better, and Quintero is not far behind him as a rising star, and our next journey is the Copa America next year in Chile. This team is loaded with talent, and I don’t see anything but going up for this young squad. Gracias Colombia and Pekerman! Thank you for a historic run, and for all of us to enjoy your accomplishments!

    • ecuairanusa - Jul 5, 2014 at 12:40 AM

      Colombia had an amazing run, and James was exactly what the World Cup and soccer ”s faithful around the world needed. With that being said, it was a petty, dirty, unnecessary gesture that was classless as well. There should be shame in it, and if this happened to James, I’m sure you’d be singing a different tune… My wife and extended family are Colombian, and as sad as we were today to have seen their run come to an end, they and I included were more devastated that class had been thrown out the window, and a young man’s well being jeopardized for no reason whatsoever…. And the feelings that my family and I held were not because of Colombian nationality, but just concern over another persons well being… What happened did happen, but it didn’t and shouldn’t have happened… The only thing Colombia has to be ashamed of is having you identify yourself as a part of these thoughtful and gracious people…. You’re the embarrassment.

    • th1sguy0226 - Jul 5, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      Couldn’t agree more. … viva Colombia!

  2. biglaj007 - Jul 4, 2014 at 9:03 PM

    Who is this writer? The Colombian cross the ball during the scuffle & it fell in the hands of Brazil. I am not a Brazilian, you should quit writing about soccer!

    • malaguy - Jul 7, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      This comment makes no grammatical sense.

  3. rkmerrill - Jul 4, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    Totally agree on referee fracaso, total disappointment and now tragedy for Brazil. Today was a sad day. Get well soon Neymar. Zuniga will have his own reckoning if he doesn’t catch a plane home and soon. Cheers to James for great play and to David Luis and Marcello for such exemplary efforts around the pitch.

    • wcupfan - Jul 4, 2014 at 9:26 PM

      Zuniga should be punished for a flagrant, malicious foul. I’ve played and followed futbol my whole life and “Defending his jersey” is not an excuse to fracture someone’s back. He is an ass

  4. wcupfan - Jul 4, 2014 at 9:30 PM

    I’ve followed soccer my whole life and ” defending my jersey” does not excuse a flagrant, malicious foul. The ref sucked but Zuniga should be punished – he is a disgrace to the sport

  5. nextmanup81 - Jul 4, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    Worst thing Zuniga could’ve said. How did he not just seal his own fate by admitting it was retaliation? And retaliation for what? Both teams were fouling each other all game and the ref kept his cards in his pocket. Because Rodriguez gets a yellow card on his first foul it’s okay to put your knee in a man’s back and fracture his vertebrae? One of the best remaining players is out now because of this sore loser. Thanks dude, much appreciated!

  6. lunasceiling - Jul 4, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    No yellow cards until after 40 fouls (!) had been called is absurd. I understand the reluctance to go to the pocket with a lot of players on both sides already on a caution and the winner going to the semis…but you can not let a game get out of control like that. That doesn’t excuse Zuniga’s nasty foul, but it certainly paved the way for it to happen.

  7. jucam1 - Jul 4, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    This article has it one hundred percent right, and please WCU with your righteous indignation, what were they supposed to do not fight back after having the ref allow the Brazilians to foul them all game long? I put this squarely on the ref, Colombia went out there to play a fair match abd the Brazilians quickly realized that the ref would let them get away with murder, second half Colombia came out playing like Brazil did and this unfortunate and unintended injury happen. Blame the ref and Fifa’s never ending corruption for putting him there, but shut it about Zuñiga being some sort of villan cause then you show you either didn’t watch the game or don’t know enough a out the sport to comment intellegently

  8. nextmanup81 - Jul 4, 2014 at 10:49 PM

    Wrong dude. Why is it someone from the losing team has to get even when the refs called it equal for both teams? If David Luiz doesn’t bury that free kick and put Brazil up, this dude doesn’t feel the need to get even. In the end, it comes down to winning and losing, and he felt the need to get even because he was losing. That’s the way it usually goes, and it’s called sore losing.

  9. jucam1 - Jul 4, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    The game wasnt over yet “dude”, he’s not getting even he is playing the way he realized he had to play to match the Brazilian team play. James was taken down 7 or 8 times just as hard before they realized the ref was asleep. if the Colombians don’t start playing like the Brazilians were they would have never made it close at the end or even scored. Sore losing is him kicking him once the game was over, this was a desperate wing player trying to get the ball back so he can start the push up field.

    • foxhunter1234 - Jul 5, 2014 at 12:37 AM

      This game was a disgrace to the sport. The referee failed in his most important responsibility in a very obvious way in one of the pinnacle games of the sport. And now Zuniga shows no remorse for breaking the back of one of the world’s favorite players with an obvious intentional cheap shot. And some Columbian fans are running to his defense. Disgusting and classless. Lets hope that Fifa makes Zuniga pay with its most severe punishments and sends this referee down to the children’s league where he belongs.

  10. kwabes - Jul 5, 2014 at 2:45 AM

    I can’t understand anyone saying that the referee was allowing Brazil to get away with fouls when there were 54 fouls called: with 31 against Brazil, and 23 against Columbia. The facts are true. If I were a Brazilian I’ll be complaining about the referee calling too many fouls against my team in a game where both sides were physical. It is typical for a member of the losing team to resort to unsportsman-like bravado of excuses to justify unsportsman-like antics on the pitch.

    I’d admired the Colombians, but I lost total respect for Zuñiga for his response to his flagrant foul on Neymar.

    Zuñiga is the 2014 World Cup – football/soccer equivalent of Tonya Harding in the 1994 Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Figure Skating saga. He typifies a barbarian sore loser.

  11. mcyork2014 - Jul 5, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    kyle bonn, are you an american football commentator? because of soccer you clearly understand nothing. your piece suggests that only the colombians suffered fouls and that the brazilian squad was out there to get them, hence what zunigo did was clearly asked for.

    Zuniga rather cowardly digs his knee into Neymar’s back Not even a foul was called following the incident.
    Neymar is stupidly barged over by Cuadrado…nope…the referee has again opted to not use his cards.
    Zuniga escapes a booking after raising his studs to Hulk’s knee. The colombians were vicious and there was nothing for Zuniga to retaliate. its inexcusable and he should be punished. suarez’s bite looks child’s play in comparison.

  12. footballer4ever - Jul 5, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    The fault mainly lies with the referee because it’s up to him to sail the football ship. Brazil was playing rough and so did Colombia. Unlike a bite, this was an in-play enforcement play which should punish the Colombian footballer and more importantly the referee.

  13. dubner - Jul 5, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    He was just defending his shi(r)t. There is no excuse for Zuniga, Velasco and Pekerman (ordered). This is the beginning of the end of soccer as we knew. Starting with scandals in FIFA, governments corruption, electoral hidden agenda, overpaid players, fan violence and anti-fair play behavior.

    • malaguy - Jul 7, 2014 at 12:27 PM

      “End of soccer as we knew.” Yawn.

  14. jucam1 - Jul 5, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    Read the NY Times article, it clearly lays out how the ref let the Brazilians get away with insane fouls all game, the Colombians had to finally step up and play as horribly as the Brazilians were the whole game to make the game close. The Ref allowed this to turn in to a wrestling match after allowing Brasil to get away with murder. Blame FIFA and its awful attempts to fix a game, Brasil would have probably won any way. Zuñiga had no intention to hurt Neymar, the ball was in front of him and he had to go hard because that is what the ref turned the game in to. As for your little “shame” comment Mr Ecuador, nobody cares about your opinion, your weak team, and the global media saw the truth of it. Please keep to your socialist country views and quit your commenting. Everyone knows that this was clearly a reffing error if not a FIFA error. I’m tired of explaining what everyone globally has seen. I watched this game intently and this is the ref’s fault.

  15. inbound2me - Jul 6, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    How many WC tournament outcomes altered by sloppy, or as in the case of Brazil v Colombia, non-existant referring is it going to take before FIFA makes long overdue changes! This code of tradition that hides behind “…the way it’s always been” is ruining the sport. Example, only one referee up and down the field policing the action has been rendered completely inadequate by this era’s bigger and faster players. It’s like anything else that requires close monitoring — the more physical and faster it gets so should the job of controlling it be expanded. Not just this WC but also prior ones, how many blatant, game-changing infractions were missed on account of “He didn’t see it.” This ‘tradition’ mentality is a cancer on the WC’s credibility. The sport, how it’s played, and who’s playing it have been evolving and it’s high time the old farts in FIFA evolve with it. At every WC put another ref on field, another in booth, and adopt instant reply under modest guidelines. Yes, WC matches will slow down, however, I’d rather have a WC champion based on two-hour, efficient outcomes than a series of 90 min train wrecks. We can simply no longer keep surrendering to “…that’s just how it’s always been played.”

  16. malaguy - Jul 7, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Tried posting this about ten times, but let’s try it this way:

    You people who are criticizing Zuniga, or calling him a disgrace/shameful/villain need to calm down. As has been said by people who know what they’re talking about, the blame for all this lies with the official. Period. Had he maintained/ever had control of the game, then none of the players would’ve felt like they needed to “defend their shirts.”

    • malaguy - Jul 7, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      …There’s no way that Zuniga was actually intending to hurt Neymar, much less so specifically. He was merely trying to make a hard charge to the ball – the very same type of play that Brazil had gotten away with the ENTIRE game. It’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that breaking Neymar’s back was not the intention.

  17. sundowncam - Jul 7, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    I am forced to forgive you for your ignorance and your irresponsible headline Mr. Bonn. You stated that Juan Zuniga’s quote “I was just defending my shirt.” likely refers to payback. You irresponsibly stated that it is an admission of guilt. It’s a direct translation of the term “defendiendo la camiseta” which to Colombians and other Latin Americans means representing your country and playing hard for your country. It is a common term and not an admission of guilt. Colombia fielded a young talented squad that stepped up despite the loss of their top players before the tournament began. They wanted to leave a bright mark on the WC by playing the game beautifully. I only hope that the pitiful refereeing and uninformed comments like yours do not tarnish that mark. By the way Colombians and Latin Americans have another common expression about the shirt. It’s called “sintiendo la camiseta.” It means feeling pride in playing for your country. If you hear that, don’t think it means they like feeling up their shirts.

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