Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Neymar comeback reports ‘made up by Brazil’s journalists’

Reda Maher

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Neymar is not dead - he can even sit up

Following Brazil’s nervy win over Colombia, I spoke to Brazil fans in the immediate aftermath of the news that Neymar would miss the rest of the World Cup through injury.

It was a Friday night which started in celebratory mood for most Brazilians, a mood which soon turned when the seriousness of his injury – and the implications for the Selecao – became apparent.

I received a bit of grief for the headline – ‘Brazil mourns Neymar’s passing’ – a headline I didn’t actually write. But it was supposed to be ironic, likening the national mood to that of a wake: sadness, joy, and a lot of drink.

However, as the dust has settled and Argentina edged past Belgium with Lionel Messi intact, a wider concern emerged of what Brazil’s Neymar-less fate may be.

“Neymar won't be on the pitch, but his soul will be on it, with the players. Neymar's spirit will be with us,” Mario Zagallo, the former Brazil coach, opined.

Current boss Luiz Felipe Scolari spoke of "tears, catastrophes, heartbreak", claiming that Neymar thought he was paralysed after the incident.

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Tabloid newspapers showed images of weeping fans, adults and children alike, with some becoming internet memes. The World Cup was over, they cried, they killed our baby.

Worse, Juan Zuniga – the Colombia player whose rough challenge injured the Barcelona star – has been sent racist abuse and death threats for his stray boot.

Obviously, that is ridiculous but it sums up a creeping fear that Brazil’s hopes are over. Or, even worse, that they could end up losing to bitter rivals Argentina in the final.

Just as absurd were reports emanating from Brazil that Neymar was considering taking pain-killing injections to stabilise his back so he could play in the final, provided they get past Germany.

[REPORTS: NEYMAR WANTS TO PLAY FINAL]

The Brazil Football Federation doctor dismissed the reports, saying such a move was from the "old days of football" and could "put his long-term health at risk", but it is understood that the player has not totally given up hope of playing.

Brazil fans I spoke to thought the story was ridiculous.

“Listen, there’s a lot more time between matches now, so journalists need to do something,” Jorge told me.

“I can’t see it happening. It would be too risky for his career. And he wouldn’t be fit, he has a broken back – what’s the point?”

Samuel, a fluent French speaker who was thus able to articulate his views fully, was even more outspoken.

“I think this has been totally made up by journalists, it’s completely false, engineered by the media.

“They have the chance to make their opinion, to put pressure on the player and Brazil, but I don’t think Neymar is seriously considering it.

“Because, even if he does make it, he won’t have trained.”

I spoke to Brazilian journalist Fernando Duarte, who conceded that the team and fans are terrified of facing Germany without Neymar.

“The team know how much of a blow it is,” he added, referring to the sadness expressed by several players.

Some of the comments have verged on the absurd though.

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Samuel just wants everyone to calm down

“All this overreaction is too much. Yes, his World Cup is dead, but the player isn’t!” Samuel added.

“It’s a serious injury but it’s a case of weeks or months, not years, and certainly not a matter of life or death.

“In a squad game like this there have to be other players who can step up if a player is injured – and we have players. We’re Brazil! We're at home!

“We don’t have to play with two strikers, we have great players behind.”

[READ ALL OF REDA'S WORLD CUP BLOGS]

Then we discussed the question of the threats aimed at Zuniga. All I spoke to agreed Brazil were risking losing the moral high ground.

“Death threats – come on, it was a foul, these things happen in football,” Eduardo said. “Brazil players have injured opponents before, should they die too?”

Jorge called it "wrong, morally wrong" to threaten the player. "Yes it should have been a red card, but of course he didn't mean or expect to break his vertebrae."

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Samuel felt particularly offended at some of the other comments made towards Zuniga.

“No-one would be crazy enough to actually try and kill him, but to call him a monkey? To threaten to rape his family members?

“That’s completely out of order. That's totally against what Brazil stands for. How can Brazilians be racist? How can you say things about women and children? I wonder who these people are.

“Football is a contact sport, and sometimes you get hurt. We have to move on from this, we can’t let it dominate us before such a big match.”

He's right, but not all fans agree, and the process of mourning a fallen idol is appealing to some.

However, Brazil’s team and media must now switch their focus on the reality of the situation: who comes in for their golden boy? And how do they beat The Germans?

[MOURINHO: WHY BRAZIL WILL STILL WIN WORLD CUP]

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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