BRASILIA, Brazil – Neymar became emotional when talking Thursday about the injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, saying that if the knee to his back had been slightly more to one side he “could be in a wheelchair” right now.
The Brazil striker cried as he recalled the injury, saying “God blessed” him and prevented a more serious injury. Neymar had to stop talking for several seconds, lowering his head and putting a hand in front of his eyes.
“It’s difficult to talk about a move that (happened) in such an important moment of my career,” he said.
Neymar fractured his third vertebra when defender Juan Camilo Zuniga hit him with his knee from behind in a brutal challenge late in the quarterfinal match against Colombia.
“If it had been 2 centimeters to the center…,” he said, struggling to stay composed. “I could be in a wheelchair.”
The 22-year-old striker complained about Zuniga’s challenge, although he said the Colombian called to apologize.
“I don’t know if he was trying to hurt me, but if you understand football you know that it was not a normal challenge,” Neymar said. “I can’t protect myself when I’m not facing the play. The only thing that can protect me from someone coming from behind are the rules. I couldn’t protect myself and I ended up getting hurt.”
Neymar had been recovering at home but returned to the team’s training camp on Thursday. He will travel with the squad to Brasilia to support them in the third-place match against the Netherlands on Saturday.
Neymar said the injury led to “the worst week of his life,” one that culminated – in his absence – with Brazil’s 7-1 thrashing by Germany in the semifinals. He said he didn’t know how to explain what happened, and that it would be “unfair for this group” to be remembered by that result alone.
“We can’t lower our heads,” he said. “It will hurt for a long time, but better days will come.”
He wished luck to Germany and Argentina in Sunday’s final, but said he hopes the South Americans will come out on top. He plays at Barcelona with Argentina stars Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano.
“I’m not cheering for Argentina, I’m cheering for my teammates,” he said.
Neymar said that it would be good for football to have Messi winning a world title.
“He deserves to be a world champion,” he said. “I’m Messi Football Club.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.