An entire country rests on them and it is their ankles that must keep up such an illusion. The figures of the world they live exposed, they are the ones who are most expected and the ones who are most sought after by rivals: nine fouls received neymar against Serbia, when no player had passed five on the first date of Qatar 2022. They hit him even in his own field.
And Ney’s right ankle paid the consequences. And the cost, today, seems very high for a World Cup to which the stars already arrived physically burdened: last Sunday they were still playing for their clubs.
The news that Neymar will miss the group stage is a hard blow, not for Brazil, but for football in Qatar 2022. Neymar received 75% of the fouls that the ‘Scratch’ suffered against the Serbs (9 of 12), and his ankle did not resist so much tares.
“Neymar has a sprain and edema developed in the affected area. We have treated him immediately on the substitute bench and now he continues with the physio. We have to wait 24 or 48 hours to better understand the extent of the injury. You have to be calm and patient.”, explained Brazil’s doctor Rodrigo Lesmar after the game. Today, from Brazil, the news said that he would not recover for another week.
Messi’s ankle was also a trend in Qatar 2022. He arrived at the World Cup with discomfort in his Achilles tendon, but played the last game with PSG on xxx before joining Albiceleste. He seemed to arrive in top form, but his first training sessions were different. Until an image of his ankle, apparently inflamed, went around the world.
Injured? And the concern was for the whole of Argentina, however, it was only a cryotherapy treatment on the right ankle to avoid inflammation.
“I’m fine physically,” he said and so he went out onto the field against Saudi Arabia. And yes, the body was fine, but not much of the collective game. The low individual performances made Argentina lose in its debut against Saudi Arabia.
“”How they hit me, mommy! How they hit me! They fouled me eleven times, almost all of the game. Some left me bleeding, no joke… Number 17, unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was called, but I had already named it Kung Fu”, Diego Maradona said about the game against Korea in Mexico in 1986, but it was in Italy 1990 when his ankle went around the world, although it was already known when Goikoetxea broke it in the Spanish League.
Diego’s left ankle in ’90 is almost as famous as his hand of God four years earlier. Without the ‘big toe’ nail and hit directly there in the game against Cameroon, this swollen ankle was far from being that of an athlete playing in a World Cup. But for Maradona there was nothing to stop him. He trained with special boots, with a carbon splint and infiltrated up to eight times to go out on the playing field.
“This beast, instead of saving himself, froze his ankle… I don’t know how he did it,” said Fernando Signorini, Diego’s personal physical trainer. “I felt as if they were grabbing my ankle with pliers and twisting it,” said Diego himself. Injections to infiltrate it, injections to drain fluid. Thus, Argentina reached the final to seek the title, although a penalty deprived them of that new joy.
- 50 fouls received in Italy 90
- 53 fouls received in Mexico 86
- 23 fouls in the same game, against Italy in Spain 82
The fouls against Péle
O’Rey Pelé’s talent led his rivals to come up with a plan to stop him and the only recourse they found was fouls. The 1962 World Cup was the first warning. The Brazilian number 10 only played two of the six games for his world champion team. An inguinal sprain prevented him from arriving in good shape and he only played the first two rounds, against Mexico and Czechoslovakia.
But by 1966 he came for his revenge, but in England a plan was waiting for him to “liquidate” him. Dobromir Zhechev, the Bulgarian defender, committed all kinds of non-penalized fouls. As a claim, Pelé did not play against Hungary and Brazil lost, forcing the ‘Scratch’ to beat Portugal to qualify.
And that is where Joao Pedro Morais earned a place in the -black- history of the World Cups. In the first half he made two strong fouls – without the English referee George McCabe saying anything – that made a 26-year-old Pelé leave the field and Brazil was left with 10 men, since Pelé continued on the field – there were no variants -, but in one leg he hardly touched the ball.
Maybe Pele made them change the rules. “The arbitration was unfortunate and because of that unfortunate arbitration we suffered the consequence of violence in the matches”, says Joao Havelange, president of the Brazilian federation at the time, in the documentary “Pelé”. For Mexico 70 the cards appeared, the sanctions for those who committed fouls that no one punished before, and changes were also allowed, to replace those players who were not in a position to continue.
A muscle injury left Alfredo Di Stefano without playing in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, despite the fact that he traveled with the Spanish delegation. Bernd Schuster was left without Spain 82 due to a torn ligament in charge of Goikoetxea, the same one that broke Maradona. And so names follow, even Karim Benzema, who was prevented from being in Qatar by a knee injury. He only played in Russia 2014.