Down Two Key Players, Brazilians Worry About World Cup Prospects

Despite Brazil's win against Colombia in the quarterfinals, fans aren't entirely sure they can win the tournament. One key player is out for an injury; another for racking up too many penalties.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Hey, thanks for sticking with us on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Brazilians should be celebrating today after beating Colombia 2-1 yesterday in the World Cup quarterfinals. But instead, it is not looking good. Brazil's best player - 22-year-old striker Neymar - was injured during that game - is now out for a month with a broken bone in his back. That leaves Brazilians wondering if the end of Neymar's brilliant run in the tournament also means the end of the host country's World Cup dreams. From Rio de Janeiro, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Even while this was happening in the streets of Rio last night...

(SOUNDBITE OF CELEBRATION)

GOLDMAN: ...This was the scene in Fortaleza, where the game was played.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORRIED FANS)

GOLDMAN: As Neymar, with a towel over his face, was rushed on a gurney down a hospital corridor. The bad news spread quickly - a fractured vertebrae in his lower back. And the fireworks went silent.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

GOLDMAN: Football, the national passion, went on. It always goes on at Aterro do Flamengo, a park in Rio's flamengo neighborhood. A few hours after Brazil versus Colombia ended, the multi-field park was buzzing with league games. Those watching had plenty to say about the news of the night. Wearing a yellow and green team Brazil t-shirt, Priscilla Soza (ph), called Neymar's World Cup ending injury sad, but not insurmountable.

PRISCILLA SOZA: (Portuguese spoken).

GOLDMAN: There are other good players, Soza says. There's Fred, there's Hulk - we're all still cheering for Brazil to be a hexacampion - six-time champion. But in another part of the park, a younger set was that less optimistic. This is 12-year-old Eric Almeda (ph).

ERIC ALMEDA: (Through translator) I think now that he's wounded, it's going to be difficult. The team is going to be weaker without him because he was the one who made the goals. He was the one who made every thing work out.

GOLDMAN: And not just as a creative genius with the ball. At the age of 22, he's a team leader as well. It was Neymar, in the run-up to the Colombia game, who reassured nervous Brazilians that the team was psychologically strong and ready to win the Cup. Now, he can only cheer after being felled by a seemingly brazen play, where an airborne Colombian defender kneed Neymar in the back. Many, including 13-year-old Dede Silva (ph) at the park, wondered why a hit that sent Neymar to the hospital wasn't penalized at least by a cautionary yellow card.

DEDE SILVA: (Through translator) It was also the responsibility of the ref because the ref didn't call the injury to Neymar.

GOLDMAN: From the park to the president's office, Brazilians are thinking about the injured soccer hero. President Dilma Rousseff tweeted all our support to Neymar. And she means it. It's commonly believed that Dilma's political future may be linked to Brazil's success at the World Cup. That success is now in question, not just with Neymar gone, but star defender Thiago Silva also is out of the semi-final match against Germany Tuesday because he's accumulated too many yellow cards. Half-empty Brazilians already are lamenting their bad luck. Those half-full have a possible new rallying cry - remember 1962. That's the year Brazil won the World Cup, even after superstar Pele was injured in the second game and missed the rest of the tournament. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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