FORTALEZA, Brazil: Brazil striker Neymar was ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup on Friday, dealing the hosts a crushing blow just hours after they battled through to a semi-final showdown with Germany.
A pulsating opening day of quarter-final action saw Brazil advance to the last four with a 2-1 victory over Colombia after Germany defeated old rivals France 1-0 at the Maracana Stadium.
But Brazil’s bruising win over Colombia was immediately overshadowed by news that Neymar would miss the rest of the tournament after suffering a fractured vertebra.
The 22-year-old was carried off grimacing in agony after an aerial collision with Colombia defender Juan Camilo Zuniga towards the end of the contest. Neymar got a knee in the back.
“The exam showed he suffered a fracture of the third vertebra” in his back, Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said.
The Barcelona superstar has been integral to Brazil’s World Cup campaign so far, scoring four goals during the World Cup hosts journey to the last four.
His injury is bound to focus attention on the performance of Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who allowed several rugged challenges from both sides go unpunished throughout Friday’s game.
Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari fumed that Neymar had been targeted by opponents during the tournament.
“I have been saying for three matches that Neymar has been hunted, but all the other countries say it is not true and it is only their players that are hunted,” Scolari said.
Zuniga later expressed sympathy for Neymar, and insisted the injury was accidental.
“I’ve never tried to harm another player,” Zuniga said.
“When I’m on the pitch I’m there to defend my country and my shirt — but there’s no intention to hurt anyone.”
As well as Neymar, Brazil will also miss captain Thiago Silva in Tuesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte, after the defender picked up a yellow card against Colombia to earn a suspension.
Silva had earlier fired Brazil into an early 1-0 lead before David Luiz made it 2-0 with a thunderous long-range free-kick midway through the second half.
Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez — kicked repeatedly by Brazil’s players throughout — pulled a goal back from the penalty spot to set up a tense finale, but the hosts held on for the win.
Rodriguez, the tournament’s top scorer with six goals, left the field in tears after the defeat.
Brazil’s semi-final will see them play Germany in a repeat of the 2002 World Cup final won 2-0 by the South Americans.
It will be only the second time Brazil has met Germany at a World Cup.
Germany reached the semi-finals for a record fourth straight time earlier Friday after a header from Mats Hummels helped beat France 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro.
Borussia Dortmund defender Hummels rose to head home Toni Kroos’s free-kick on 13 minutes to settle a cagey encounter.
“The next dream has come true,” said man-of-the-match Hummels.
“It’s unbelievable that it’s all going so well for us here at the World Cup.
“I hope that our journey won’t end soon and that we can make it back to compete here week next Sunday,” he added, referring to the July 13 final.
France coach Didier Deschamps bemoaned his team’s failure to capitalise on the handful of chances they created.
“There was not much between the sides,” Deschamps said. “One team is more used to these occasions and has more experience.
“We were not clinical in front of goal.”
France had entered the match quietly confident of avenging semi-final defeats against Germany in 1982 and 1986.
But they were left to rue a lacklustre first half performance which saw Germany dominate in sweltering conditions.
France rallied in the second half, and Hummels saved Germany with a desperate late block of a Karim Benzema shot shortly before Manuel Neuer parried a firm strike from Blaise Matuidi.
Neuer saved Germany again at the death, pulling off a brilliant block from Benzema just seconds from the whistle.
The quarter-final drama continues Saturday when the Netherlands play Costa Rica and Belgium take on Argentina.