• Brazil forward is out of World Cup after breaking vertebra
• Juan Calimo Zúñiga claims he had no intent to injure opponent
An emotional Neymar had to hold back the tears as he addressed a nation in mourning the day after Brazil’s talisman was ruled out of the rest of the World Cup with a broken vertebra.
Live television pictures showed a medical helicopter airlifting the 22-year-old from Brazil’s training camp in Teresopolis to his home in Guarujá in São Paulo state, where he will continue to undergo treatment for the injury sustained in Friday’s quarter-final victory against Colombia. Still sporting his trademark baseball cap, Neymar waved briefly from his stretcher inside the helicopter before the doors were closed and the aircraft flew away.
He later released a video message via the Brazilian Soccer Federation and urged his team-mates to complete their quest to win a sixth World Cup.
“My dream isn’t over. It was interrupted by a play but it continues,” a red-eyed Neymar said. “I’m certain that my team-mates will do everything possible so that my dream, which is to be a champion, comes true. My dream was also to play in a World Cup final but this time it didn’t work out. I am sure they will win this cup and be champions, and I will be with them, and all Brazilians will soon be celebrating all of that.
“It’s a very difficult moment, I have no words to translate what is going through my head and my heart, I’d just like to say I will be back as quickly as possible, when you least expect it, I’ll be back.”
Neymar later conducted a live television interview via a satellite link and reduced the presenter and members of the studio audience to tears. Fifa’s disciplinary committee is studying the challenge that led to the injury and will decide whether to punish the Colombia defender Juan Zúñiga.
Zúñiga – who plays his club football in Italy for Napoli – issued an apology, having originally stated after the match he had only been “defending his shirt”, in reference to the persistent fouling by Brazil’s players during the first 45 minutes in Fortaleza. “I don’t think it was normal football play. I do believe it was aggressive,” he said. “Although I feel that these situations are a normal part of the game, there was no intent to injure, malice nor negligence on my part.
“I want to reach out to Neymar, who I admire, respect and consider one of the best players in the world. I hope you recover quickly and return to the game soon, so we can all support a sport full of the virtues and qualities that I’ve tried to follow in my 12 years as a professional player.”