Soccer governing body FIFA denied it told World Cup referees to be lenient amid complaints that a lack of on-field sanctions contributed to the tournament-ending injury suffered by Brazil’s Neymar.
The striker was carried off the field on a stretcher crying in agony after he was kneed in the back by Juan Zuniga five minutes before the end of Brazil’s 2-1 win over Colombia. The 54 fouls in that game were more than any other in the tournament, and it took 40 fouls before referee Carlos Velasco Carballo brandished the first yellow card.
Yellow and red cards are down to the lowest level since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, averaging 2.89 and 0.7, leading newspapers including Germany’s Bild to report that FIFA has told referees to resist giving cautions to players.
“Saying behind this is a mastermind, that there is a plan to make the game more dynamic, more spectacular, more whatever, this is something we cannot accept,” FIFA Director of Communications Walter de Gregorio said at a daily World Cup briefing yesterday in Rio de Janeiro.
De Gregorio said he rarely attends such briefings but was present because the speculation “hurts our core business.”
“Usually I’m not here,” he said. “It goes into the core business. Protecting the main actors, namely the players, is the most important thing we have to do as FIFA.”
Neymar’s injury is a setback for Brazil in its bid to win a record-extending sixth World Cup, and a first on home soil. The 22-year-old had scored a team high four goals before he was ruled out with a broken vertebrae. FIFA said it would take no further action against Zuniga over the challenge.
In the game with Colombia, Brazil also was aggressive, fouling tournament top scorer James Rodriguez repeatedly. Brazil committed 31 fouls in the match to Colombia’s 23.
The decline in yellow cards comes after a move before the 1990 World Cup to protect star players by outlawing tackles from behind and bringing in video evidence to investigate incidents referees may have missed. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was punished with a four-month soccer ban after FIFA reviewed a video of his team’s game with Italy and judged he bit opponent Giorgio Chiellini.