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sports INJURY DAMAGES WORLD CUP HOPES?

Brazil suffers collective meltdown over Neymar injury

In Brazil, where football is king, a foot injury has unleashed sharp emotions and concern, rumours and speculation about Neymar, upon whom so many hopes rest for World Cup victory in Russia.

Thursday 1 March, 2018
A picture obtained from Twitter account of @Claire_Dorland shows Brazilian superstar Neymar as he arrives at Rio de Janeiro after flying from Paris.
A picture obtained from Twitter account of @Claire_Dorland shows Brazilian superstar Neymar as he arrives at Rio de Janeiro after flying from Paris. Foto:Claire Dornald Clauzel-Twitter-AFP

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In Brazil, where football is king, Neymar's foot injury has unleashed sharp emotions and concern, rumours and speculation about the star player upon whom so many hopes rest for World Cup victory in Russia.

"We just might have lost the World Cup last Sunday," one radio commentator, Milton Neves of Bandnews FM, declared early Wednesday.

This morning, all eyes on were on Rio de Janeiro, as the Brazilian superstar flew to Brazil ahead of an operation on his fractured foot that will sideline him for up to three months, casting a long shadow over Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil's World Cup preparations.

The world's most expensive player, 26, arrived on an Air France flight from Paris and left in a wheelchair, a photo taken by one of his fellow passengers showed. Dressed in a black hoodie, a black baseball cap and wearing sunglasses, the PSG star smiled and took selfies with passengers, before leaving on a private jet to an undisclosed destination.

His surgery is booked for Saturday, said national team surgeon Rodrigo Lasmar, who will lead the procedure.

But despite the hurry to put Neymar's right foot under the knife at a hospital in Belo Horizonte, he won't be back on the field soon.
"The (recovery) period will be around two-and-a-half to three months," Lasmar told journalists after arriving with the player on the same Air France flight. "It's not a simple fracture, but a fracture in an important bone in the middle of the foot.”

The injury has not only ruled Neymar out of PSG's do-or-die Champions League clash with Real Madrid on March 6, but now threatens the much fancied Brazilian national side's build-up to the World Cup, which starts in Russia on June 14, prompting a minor national collective breakdown.

Tiny bone, big problem

The initial prognosis did not appear quite as serious on Sunday, when Neymar suffered a hairline fracture of the fifth metatarsal, as well as a twisted ankle late in PSG's 3-0 win over Marseille in Ligue 1.

On Tuesday, the Brazilian's father Neymar Senior had claimed the player would be out for "at least six weeks.”

PSG coach Unai Emery had said earlier that there remained a "small chance" of getting him back in time to face Real.

Lasmar's assessment painted a graver picture both in terms of the injury and the timing of Neymar's recovery.

"Yesterday we went back to the hospital (in Paris) and made new exams that left the seriousness of the fracture very clear," he told journalists in Rio.

"There was no doubt left regarding the treatment. We were unanimous in agreeing that it would have to be surgical treatment. More conservative treatment, without surgery, would present a far greater risk for refracture. We can't run that risk."

PSG lost 3-1 to Real in the first leg of their European tie in Spain two weeks ago and are in danger of being knocked out of the competition in the last 16 for the second season running.

The drama is also a big personal setback for Neymar who has been at the centre of the world's footballing attention since his 222 million-euro (US$264 million) move from Barcelona last August.

He has scored 28 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions for PSG since arriving, but has faced a string of problems over claims he receives preferential treatment from the club, when compared to his teammates. Neymar's desire to take penalties led to a clash with teammate Edison Cavani, with the two all-but not passing to each during games. His reported three-day birthday celebrations earlier this year also led to criticism.

But, despite the setbacks, on Sunday he looked to be in tears as he was stretchered off the field at the Parc des Princes.

Brazilian jitters

Brazilians care little about the impact on PSG. Their attention is entirely trained on the World Cup, where they have ambitions of walking away with a sixth title.

Images of Sunday's fateful duel between Neymar and Marseille player Bouna Sarr were being shown incessantly on TV, often in slo-mo, before he was stretchered off. Newspapers featured close-up illustrations detailing Neymar's foot and ankle.

"I don't think we can really talk about fears of him not being at the World Cup. But there is a noticeable haste to find a solution so that Neymar will have recovered in time," an ESPN Brasil sports commentator, Mauro Cezar Pereira, told AFP.

Lasmar said he was aware of the pressure.

"It's clear there are goals to reach in terms of timing and we will do our best to meet the deadlines," he said.

The father said the decision on surgery was up to PSG, not Neymar. "I'm not a doctor, so we have to wait for the club's decision," he said.

According to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, Neymar's contract has a clause saying he must follow the club's line regarding injuries. The news website UOL reported that those close to Neymar were believed to want him to have an operation in Brazil.

Words of support

As the star's fate is being worked out, messages of support were flooding social networks. 

Brazilian football legend Pele tweeted: "Hey Neymar, all of Brazil hopes you will recover as quickly as last time! We have a World Cup to win, so get better fast!"

There was also a poignant little Instagram post from his TV actress girlfriend Bruna Marquezine: "I love you and miss you."

Famous former striker Ronaldo put forth on Globo TV to draw on his experience as a player hit with injury before a World Cup. 

"It's a shame that happened now. No recovery is easy. But I'm sure he'll do everything he can to come back in form," Ronaldo said. "It's not a serious injury. There's no danger of him not playing in the World Cup."

For Carlos Eduardo Mansur, commentator in the newspaper O Globo, "Neymar's injury is not a tragedy because he'll have the time to recover and maybe even go to the World Cup fresher, but it's bad news for (Brazil national team manager) Tite, for whom the friendly matches in March were fundamental."

Due to the uncertainty thrown up by when Neymar and other players will be available, the Brazilian football federation has delayed naming its squad for friendlies against Russia and Germany in late March by 10 days.

The last time the Selecão confronted Germany, Neymar was also injured. That was in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals, when Brazil suffered its most humiliating defeat: a 7-1 loss on home ground.

Now, Brazil is holding its breath.

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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