Neymar Out of World Cup After Horror Challenge

This is some of the worst news I could have heard, both as a fan of the referees and a lover of the game:

Neymar, one of the true talents and bright spots of this World Cup, is out with fractured vertebrae.

Read that again: fractured vertebrae.

Make no mistake about it, Juan Zuniga – the player who went over his back and kneed him in the spine – is responsible.

But so is Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo.

Velasco had lost such complete control of the game by that point that there had been over 40 fouls. And those were just the ones he caught.

This one was actually not amongst them, and – like Mark Geiger before him – Velasco left the culprit on the pitch while his victim was carted off on a stretcher.

To me, this is the worst kind of offense: Omission that gets a player hurt.

I do believe that the referee committee has to step up here and take responsibility. They’ve given directives that have prevented the referees from handing out yellow cards early and thus doing their jobs, part of which are protecting players from bad challenges.

However, it can be argued that Velasco – who’s not been fantastic – should never have been called upon. With only 25 referees, it’s made it unnecessarily difficult, and FIFA have had to roll the dice on some of the refs. This time, the roll went badly for them. (Though, to be fair, Velasco is one of the more experienced European referees out there; there’s no excuse for him being this bad.)

With fewer choices and two of their best tied by their teams’ performances (Sandro Ricci of Brazil and Bjorn Kuipers of the Netherlands), FIFA may have to rely on less experienced referees for the last four games.

Now, the pressure on the next two quarterfinal referees is immense.

Nicola Rizzoli of Italy, fearless and mean as  a cobra (or a honey badger!), probably has the best chance of coming out of it okay. Interestingly, Rizzoli was the first referee up after the issues on opening day, as well.

Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan had two shaky performances – with missed handballs, bad positioning, knocking over a player and poor advantages to his resume. He’s also had one very good match. But he’s the one I’m most wary of at this point.

Either of these referees has a bad game tomorrow – and it happens to the best of them – and the conversation is right back to refereeing and not on the game.

If it isn’t already.

Featured Photo: Fabrizio Benschi/Getty

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