Fortaleza - Colombia defender Juan Zuniga said he did not deliberately try to hurt Brazil forward Neymar when he kneed him in the back on Friday, fracturing his vertebra and ruling the marquee player out of the rest of the World Cup.
Brazil held on for a 2-1 quarter-final win over their fellow South Americans but will be without Neymar against Germany in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday and the final should they progress.
“We wanted to score, and it was a tough game. Brazil was marking strongly. I hope it's nothing serious, let's pray to God,” Zuniga told reporters.
“On the pitch I'm defending my shirt, my country, but I didn't expect him to fracture a vertebrae. He is a great talent for Brazil and for the world.”
Zuniga jumped into the back of Neymar and his knee struck the Brazilian's third vertebra two minutes from the final whistle, dealing a major blow to the hosts who are seeking a sixth world title.
“It's a normal action, I tried to shadow him,” Zuniga said. “I was not thinking of hurting him. I was defending my country’s colours.”
Neymar had to be taken off on a stretcher and was transported to hospital where the extent of the injury was diagnosed.
Colombia were desperate for an equaliser after falling 2-0 behind before cutting the deficit with a late penalty.
“Sadly it happened this way. I hope he gets well, God willing,” the Colombia defender said.
Neymar, who had netted four times in the tournament, will not require surgery but will be out for several weeks, team doctors said. - Reuters