Brazil legends Zico and Ronaldo have branded Juan Camilo Zuniga ‘a coward’ and ‘violent’ after the Colombian defender’s challenge put Neymar out of the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil’s current star Number 10 was left with a broken vertebra after a heavy challenge from the Colombian during the second-half of the World Cup quarter-final meeting, which the home nation narrowly won 2-1.
Many have blamed the officiating during the game, which seemed to allow several overzealous fouls – particularly from the Brazilian’s in the first-half – go unpunished, however two of the country’s biggest stars were left in no doubt as to who overstepped the mark.
Speaking in The Guardian, Brazil’s former Number 10 star, Zico, blasted Zuniga, who he thinks should see retrospective punishment, akin to Luis Suarez.
That [Neymar having a great World Cup] all changed with Juan Camilo Zúñiga’s cowardly challenge. I am not accusing the Colombian player of deliberately taking Neymar out of the tournament or causing such a serious injury. But he went knee-high with that tackle. His intention was to whack Neymar.
It happened right in front of the referee and I was livid that there was no reaction. I believe Fifa should act strongly and punish Zúñiga in the same heavy way that it treated Luis Suárez. This kind of tackle has no place in the game.
Former superstar striker Ronaldo also had strong words to say about the Colombia and Napoli fullback, stating:
The challenge was a very violent one – I believe there was an intention by the Colombian player to cause some harm. I don’t think it was normal football play, I don’t know whether he had planned this beforehand but I do believe it was very aggressive, very violent.
Zico also sought to blame FIFA for their mandate, instructing referees ‘not to spoil the spectacle’ of the game, believing many players have taken advantage it. In fact, many people believe Brazil themselves were the main benefactors of such a stance shown by the officials during the quarter-final victory, when an apparent gameplan to stop Colombia’s creative talents by any means necessary was allowed throughout the match, which Zico at least acknowledges:
Before anybody accuses me of being partial, let me say I was angry at the way Brazil players were taking turns to foul James Rodríguez in Friday’s game. A more rigorous referee could have sent Fernandinho off in the first half.
FIFA have now confirmed that they are studying the incident (the knee in Neymar’s back), and after originally stating that he was “only defending his shirt” after the game, in reference to the apparent roughhouse tactics on show throughout the match, Zuniga, for his part, has issued an apology to Neymar:
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.
As for Neymar, he has released an emotional video message via the Brazilian Soccer Federation, urging his team-mates to continue their mission and win an unprecedented sixth World Cup.
My dream isn’t over. It was interrupted by a play but it continues. 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.