Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian star Neymar has been ruled out of the Copa America after tearing ankle ligaments during his country’s 2-0 win over Qatar in a pre-tournament friendly, capping a troubled season for the world’s most expensive player.
The injury to the Paris Saint-Germain player is a huge blow to host nation Brazil’s preparations for the South American continental championship, which begins in just over a week’s time.
A distraught-looking Neymar covered his face with his hands as he sat on the bench after hobbling from the field in the 20th minute at Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha Stadium on Wednesday.
A large ice pack had been strapped to his lower right leg.
“Due to the seriousness of the injury, Neymar will neither be fit nor have time to recuperate sufficiently to participate” in the tournament, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said.
The injury comes just nine days before Brazil’s opening Copa America game against Bolivia. It caps a troubled season on and off the field for Neymar, who in the buildup to the match faced accusations that he raped a woman in a Paris hotel in May.
Neymar, 27, strongly denies the claims and has published intimate images of his encounter with the woman, Najila Trindade Mendes de Souza, on social media in his defence. Despite the furore he had continued to train with his Brazilian teammates for the Copa America.
Before the injury, CBF president Rogerio Caboclo had insisted Wednesday for the second time this week that Neymar would play in the tournament despite the rape accusations.
Caboclo’s assurances came after CBF vice president Francisco Noveletto was quoted by Brazilian media as saying he was willing to “bet” that Neymar would quit.
With Neymar ruled out, the host nation face an uphill battle to win South America’s continental championship for the first time since 2007.
The injury also leaves a question mark over the future career of a player who cost Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain a world record fee of 222 million euros ($248 million) when he moved from Barcelona in 2017.
Ankle problems ruled him out of the second half of the just-completed Ligue 1 season in France. When he did finally return to the team, he played as PSG suffered a shock defeat to Rennes in the French Cup final and then lashed out at a supporter in the stands afterwards.
In a sign of how significant a figure Neymar remains in Brazilian life, the country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro offered his public backing for the player ahead of the match.
“He’s going through a difficult moment but I believe him,” said Bolsonaro.
At a news conference Monday, national coach Tite was bombarded with questions about effect of the affair on the squad.
Attempting to sidestep the issue, Tite said he would “not judge” Neymar, who he said was “indispensable” to the team.
In the match, two Premier League-based players, Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus, scored Brazil’s goals in the first half.
On Wednesday, the woman who made the accusations gave an interview on the SBT network saying she had suffered “aggression together with rape” at the hands of the player.