Neymar Not the Only Brazil Star to Suffer World Cup Injury Heartache
Neymar was deemed as Brazil’s biggest hope to win the World Cup, but sadly he won’t be able to play anymore during the tournament due to an injury suffered in the final minutes of the quarter-final game against Colombia.
Without him, Brazil’s chances of lifting the cup have been considerable reduced.
Luiz Felipe Scolari has the tough job of looking for the replacement of his biggest star in the most crucial rounds. However, this is not a new problem for Brazilian managers through the World Cup history.
Brazil have been faced with the difficult situation of having its greatest footballer, at the time, injured. It has almost become a tendency for the Selecao to suffer from such misfortunes, over and over again. And it was only once that Brazil were able to overcome such a loss.
Here’s 5 historic heartbreaking moments that resemble Neymar’s absence due to injury.
1. Leonidas—France 1938
Possibly the biggest star and definitely the top striker from Brazil when the World Cup started. The “Black Diamond” played in Italy ’34 and France ’38, the latter being the tournament where he shone the brightest.
He ended up being the top-scorer in the 1938 World Cup with seven goals in only four games. It was in that tournament that a Brazilian coach had to deal with its biggest star and striker getting injured for the first time. Ademar Pimenta was Brazil’s manager at the time and curiously the injury happened before the semi-final match.
Brazil had to play a replay match in the quarter-final round, meaning that Brazil had to play three games in six days (including the semi-final against Italy). During the replay match Pimenta played many alternative players but Leonidas—due to his importance—wasn’t taken out from the starting line-up. The Selecao striker ended the game injured.
Pimenta waited for Leonidas to recover, but unfortunately he didn’t and the controversial decision to leave him out against the Italians was taken. When the Brazilian squad heard about the news that their main striker was out, the disappointment was huge. Brazil went on to lose 2-1 at the hands of the Azzurri.
Many myths came later on about Pimenta’s decision to leave out Leonidas from the game against Italy. Among those were that Leonidas refused to play, one that blamed Mussolini’s dictatorship for forcing the absence of the Brazilian striker so that the Italians had a better chance of winning and one that simply stated that Pimenta was resting Leonidas for the final.
2. Pele—Chile 1962
Brazil had won its first World Cup in 1958 with an astonishing performance from a 17-year-old known as Pele.
Four years later, Pele was already one of the biggest stars and recognized players in the world. Many were expecting the legend in the No. 10 jersey to repeat what he had done in Sweden so that the Selecao could retain their title.
Unfortunately, the Santos star came into the tournament without being fully recovered from an injury. He played in the first two group-stage games of the 1962 World Cup, scoring a goal against Mexico. But in the game against Czechoslovakia he got injured and he wasn’t able to play again during the tournament.
However, this was the one time that Brazil didn’t break apart after its star went out. Aymore Moreira was Brazil’s manager and he had the virtue of leading the team to its second World Cup title without arguably the best player of all time.
How did he do it?
He relied on Garrincha’s skill, Vava’s goals and having the eye or the luck to pick one of the most remembered and successful replacements in cup history. He chose Amarildo to take Pele’s place.
3. Pele and Garrincha—England 1966
Manager Vicente Feola had to deal with a more difficult situation in the 1966 World Cup than any other Brazilian coach before or after him has had to face—Brazil’s two biggest stars being injured.
When the two greatest players in the history of Brazil were on the pitch at the same time, the Selecao never lost a game. Being that both were included in the England ’66 Brazilian roster, it was unlikely to think of an early elimination for the South Americans.
"O Rei" and "Mane" were leading a squad that had a mix of players from the previous World Cup and also rising stars (who would then have their glorious moment in 1970). Pele and Garrincha started in the first match against Bulgaria, and the Canarinha won with goals scored by the two phenomenal players. However, Bulgaria’s constant fouling of Pele ended with him getting injured.
For the next match, Garrincha wasn’t able to be the player that carried the team on his shoulders without Pele, like he did four years earlier, in part due to his struggle with knee injuries. Brazil lost against Hungary and Garrincha did not play the last group-stage game.
Against Portugal, Feola got Pele back into the starting line-up, even though he wasn’t fully recovered. The Portuguese were able to stop him, with the referee's complicity, by fouling him constantly. Pele was visibly not healthy and limping on the pitch. He was unable to help the team avoid a second loss and an early elimination.
Pele saw the best of his career in the 1960s, where naturally he reached the peak of his performance because of his age. But when it came to the two World Cups played in that decade, he wasn’t able to show his true potential.
4. Zico—Mexico 1986
The 1982 version of Brazil was one of the most spectacular of all time, its only regret being unable to win the cup. Coach Tele Santana’s squad came into Mexico ’86 with a thirst for revenge.
The orchestrator of the 1980s Brazil—the one wearing the legendary No. 10 jersey—was Zico. The problem was that the Flamengo star had been carrying an injury caused by Marcio Nunes in 1985.
Zico’s situation was different to the other players in this article; his game was obviously diminished by the injury he suffered before the World Cup, but he was still present, regardless of not being fully recovered.
The 1986 Brazil was good, but it was not the one from Spain ’82. Zico only played as a substitute in three games during the tournament. However, Santana’s decision to play Zico in such conditions ended up being disastrous for the Selecao’s chances of winning the cup.
In the quarter-final match against France, Zico came as a substitute with less than 20 minutes left in regular time. Minutes later he had the chance to score the winning goal to advance to the semi-finals with a penalty kick. Zico missed, and Brazil eventually lost in a penalty shootout against the French.
5. Ronaldo—France 1998
Sixty years after Brazil suffered with Leonidas' injury in France 1938, history repeated itself. This time, the dramatic moment took place in the dawn of the final against the host country.
Ronaldo was Brazil’s biggest star and striker in France ’98. He came into the tournament as the Ballon d’Or winner and having dominated defenders in the Dutch, Spanish and Italian leagues; he was unstoppable. Ronaldo had lightning speed, possessed the magical Brazilian skill and was a deadly finisher.
Brazil were the great favourites to win the tournament and achieve their second back-to-back World Cup, despite Mario Zagallo’s decision to leave out the hero of USA ’94—Romario.
With the team making it to the final and Ronaldo being crucial with four goals scored along the way, everything was going according to what everybody thought. But the cruel fate of the 1938 Selecao haunted the one from 1998.
The night prior to the final, Roberto Carlos cried for help as team-mate and room-mate Ronaldo apparently convulsed due to the pressure laid on him to win the World Cup.
Just like conspiracy theories and myths came to life after Leonidas' injury, the same thing happened with Ronaldo. There were even investigations regarding what really happened that day. You can find more about the conspiracy theories and investigations in this Bleacher Report article.
What we do know is that players were concerned and the mood of the whole team got a big hit by witnessing what happened to the team star.
The next day, it was said that Zagallo wasn’t going to play him, but he ended up deciding to leave him in the starting line-up. Ronaldo was a ghost on the pitch, not even the shadow of the great player the world was used to seeing at the time. Brazil ended up losing 3-0.