Juan Camilo Zuniga can be sure of not winning any popularity contests in Brazil — not now, not ever.
The Colombian ploughed into Brazil’s star player Neymar’s back in the 88th minute and laid him low at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza. Neymar writhed in agony on the ground and had to be stretchered off.
He was rushed to hospital even as early post-match comments from Brazil coach painted a gloomy picture. “We lost Neymar on that play, and based on what I've seen, I think it's going to be tough for him to play,” Luiz Felipe Scolari told reporters.
Minutes later, Brazil’s worst fears came true. Doctors ruled he had fractured his vertebra.
“It’s not serious in the sense that it doesn't need surgery, but he'll need to immobilise it to recover," team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said. "Unfortunately, he's not going to be able to play." Lasmar said he expected the recovery period to take at least a few weeks.
Many Brazil fans had gathered outside the Fortaleza hospital, shouting "Forca Neymar" (be strong Neymar) as the player was being wheeled into the building.
Neymar’s injury is a huge blow to Brazil ahead of their semi-final clash against Germany on July 8. Skipper Thiago Silva will also miss the match after picking up a second yellow.
The 22-year-old Barcelona player was leading the campaign of the five-time champions on home turf and had already scored four goals.
Zuniga, 28, said he did not deliberately try to hurt Neymar when he kneed him in the back.
The defender, who plays club football for Napoli, added, “We wanted to score, and it was a tough game. Brazil was marking strongly. I hope it's nothing serious, let's pray to God,” Zuniga told reporters.
"On the pitch I'm defending my shirt, my country, but I didn't expect him to fracture a vertebra. He is a great talent for Brazil and for the world.”
He added, "It's a normal action, I tried to shadow him. I was not thinking of hurting him. I was defending my country’s colours.
"Sadly it happened this way. I hope he gets well, God willing.”
Juan Zuniga drives his knee into Neymar's back (AP Photo)