BRASÍLIA – While Brazil counted the cost of their victory over Colombia in the World Cup quarter-finals with the loss of their star Neymar for the tournament, South American rivals Argentina will hope a similar fate does not befall their genius Lionel Messi on Saturday.
Neymar and Messi have been responsible for the success so far of their respective sides at the tournament but the former’s dreams of taking the hosts the whole way to their sixth World Cup trophy ended cruelly shortly before the end of the 2-1 win over Colombia.
The 22-year-old was carried off grimacing in agony after an aerial collision with Colombia defender Juan Camilo Zuniga, who kneed him in the back.
“The exam showed he suffered a fracture of the third vertebrae” in his back, Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said.
The Barcelona superstar has been integral to Brazil’s World Cup campaign so far, scoring four goals during the World Cup hosts journey to the last four where they will take on Germany who were 1-0 winners over France in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
While a seething Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari claimed Neymar had been hunted throughout the finals, Zuniga denied any intent.
“When I’m on the pitch I’m there to defend my country and my shirt — but there’s no intention to hurt anyone,” he said.
Messi for his part posted a message wishing his Barcelona team-mate well.
“Neymar, I hope that you recover very quickly,” wrote the Argentinian on his Facebook page alongside a photograph of the two stars in their Barcelona shirts.
Messi’s mind, though, will return very quickly to the tough date with Belgium in the Brazilian capital Brasilia at 1600GMT which has seen thousands of Argentinian fans flood into the city in expectation of their advancing a step closer to a third trophy — but first since 1986 when they beat Belgium in the semi-finals.
The same criticism has been levelled at the Argentinians as at the Brazilians that the rest of the team has relied on their super star to see them through their games — Messi like Neymar has scored four goals and set up the only goal for Angel di Maria in their last 16 victory over Switzerland.
However, it is a claim that is dismissed by the Argentinian coach Alejandro Sabella, who has come a long way since he played in England for Sheffield United and Leeds United.
“Any team that has a player like Messi will greatly depend on him,” said Sabella.
“But I believe that what he’s doing is the work of the entire team. He’s the best player in the world, but he’s part of a team.”
His Belgian counterpart Marc Wilmots has yet to suffer a defeat in a competitive match since he took over at the helm in 2012 and he believes his opponents are there for the taking.
“I feel there is a lack of balance in that team,” said the 45-year-old.
“Switzerland did very, very well. And we play the same way from forward to back. I don’t know how they will adjust to our game.”
The other quarter-final pits Belgium’s neighbours the Netherlands against the surprise packages of the finals Costa Rica in Salvador which kicks-off at 2000GMT.