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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Neymar challenge 'had intent to harm'

ESPN FC's John Sutcliffe reports on Neymar's fractured vertebra and the reactions of his Brazilian teammates.

Former Brazil striker Ronaldo has said he believes there was intent in the challenge that put Neymar out of the World Cup on Friday.

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Barcelona star Neymar, Brazil's key man as they attempt to win the trophy on home territory, was challenged strongly by Colombia defender Juan Zuniga towards the end of the 2-1 win that put the hosts in the semifinals.

FIFA's disciplinary committee is examining the challenge, which resulted in Neymar being carried from the pitch in tears. Doctors later confirmed that he had suffered a fractured vertebra and would be unable to play in the remainder of the tournament.

Ronaldo told a news conference in Rio de Janeiro that he believed Zuniga had intended to hurt Neymar, the Press Association reported.

"The challenge was a very violent one -- I believe there was an intention by the Colombian player to cause some harm," he said.

"I don't think it was normal football play. I don't know whether he had planned this beforehand, but I do believe it was very aggressive, very violent.''

Speaking after the match, Zuniga said there had been no intent to hurt his opponent and insisted: "It was a normal move.

"I was on the field, playing for the shirt of my country, not intending to injure anyone. I was just defending my shirt.'

And he posted a message on his Instagram page, which said he "deeply" regretted the injury and stressed that there was "no ill intent, malice or negligence on my part."

It added: "I want to send a special greeting. Neymar. I admire and respect you and consider you one of the best players in the world. I hope you recover and come back soon."

Brazil captain Thiago Silva defended him, telling AS:  "Zuniga does not have any nastiness in him. I know him from Serie A." But he added: "What he did, I think, was rash."

Ronaldo said he believed the Brazilian nation would dedicate a World Cup win to their injured star, saying he had sent him a personal message of support.

"I sent him a message conveying all my solidarity, telling him I felt not only his physical pain but the agony of having to abandon the World Cup.

"For such a young player with so many dreams... one of those dreams was to play the World Cup in his own country in front of his own people.

"He has suffered a very heavy blow, and I told him the whole country is proud of him and that every effort will be made to win the World Cup in Brazil and dedicate it to him.''

Brazil president Dilma Roussef tweeted her backing for Neymar, writing: "All our support to @neymarjr!"

Germany legend Lothar Matthaus, whose country meet Brazil in the semifinal next week, also expressed his sympathy.

He said: "We have tears in our eyes when we see the image of Neymar yesterday. All German fans wish him a speedy recovery."

Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has come under fire for his handling of a game that witnessed more than 50 fouls, and a FIFA spokesperson said: "We are awaiting the official match reports and we will gather, as well as analyse, all the necessary elements in order to evaluate the matter."

Brazil team doctor Jose Luiz Runco told ESPN FC that Neymar would need to wear a brace "for about 15 days" and said: "It [The injury] bothers him while sleeping because of the pain."

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.


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