At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, during Brazil’s 2—0 victory over Mexico in the Round of 16 knockout stage match, Brazil’s Neymar landed out of bounds on a contested ball by the sideline. As he lay on the ground, Mexico’s defender, Miguel Layun, pretended to bend down to grab the ball next to Neymar but, oh, just so happened to place his right foot’s cleats on Neymar’s right foot and ankle, the Brazilian’s recently surgically repaired right foot.
Now some may argue that there is a slight statistical probability of that act being coincidental, a happenstance. The problem is we would have to then assume the most fouled player in the history of the World Cup, the man who was fouled ten times by Switzerland (a single game record for most fouls on a single player) and several times by Costa Rica and Serbia, and who has suffered most of those fouls—coincidentally?—to his right foot, and who was laying on the ground with play stopped, just happened to have become unlucky enough to once again be hit on his surgically repaired right foot by the bottom of a standing man’s cleats. No chance!
One might also be forgiven for thinking that one player being targeted and attacked so often as to enter the tournament’s record books for being the victim of excessive fouling would have had FIFA in fits over how to protect said player. Right? With FAIR PLAY and all being so uppermost in FIFA’s list of concerns, certainly all refs would have been urged to keep a close eye on how Neymar’s opponents played against him.
But, the mainstream media have decided that what mattered, what was egregious, what needed to be covered and highlighted to the near exclusion of anything else, was not that clearly-visible-on-video act of violence, or the just as clearly-visible-on-video lack of a call by the officials of the match, but the overly dramatic reaction to being stomped by cleats on a surgically repaired foot by the victim of the violence. I wonder how the media would react to, say, Harry Kane, Eden Hazzard, Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe, Luka Modric, Denis Cheryshev, James Rodriguez, or Xherdan Shaqiri being stomped on, as they lay prone, out of bounds with play stopped, had they but had a surgically repaired limb targeted for re-injury?
Now we all know we have VAR available, and that the actual occurrence took place not two feet away from the fourth referee, and that the game’s ref felt something important enough had happened to require a check of the affected player on the sideline and a stoppage of play to allow such a check. But the bottom line was that no VAR review took place. The fourth ref managed to miss what happened right at his feet. The game’s ref was not curious about what had occasioned the affected player’s reaction even though he was cognizant enough to delay the resumption of play. And NO CALL WAS MADE!
Here is the New York Times’ (today’s edition, page B8) appalling paragraph on the incident:
The incident that enraged Osorio [Mexico’s coach] came about 20 minutes later [the preceding paragraph had described how Neymar had previously put Brazil ahead 1-0, at the 51st minute]. Neymar, as he had on a few previous occasions already to that point, was taking his time getting back to his feet. Mexico midfielder Miguel Layun [Actually a defender who came in as a second half substitute for Rafa Marquez, also a defender. Both were strategically placed by Osorio higher up on the field specifically to mark Neymar.] came over to collect the ball and pressed his cleat onto the Brazilian’s ankle. Neymar reacted theatrically, assuming a fetal position and writhing on his back, like a turtle flipped onto its shell. The game was paused for several minutes, and the Mexicans watched in frustration, as he was examined.
Now, let’s begin with the fact that the focus of the paragraph is Osorio’s outrage. Not the egregious foul out of bounds while play had stopped. Note that Neymar had on “previous occasions” taken his time “getting back to his feet.” Does that mean he stumbled around a lot and had to pick himself up often throughout the match, or that he was constantly dumped on his fanny by Mexican fouls?
Note that Layun did not stomp on Neymar he simply “pressed his cleat onto the Brazilian’s ankle.” Now why that happened is not followed-up on here. The fact that the act was one of deliberate violence against another, with a clear intent to specifically injure by targeting the one known recently surgically repaired part of Neymar’s anatomy, an act that was taking place out of bounds, with no play occurring, not two feet from the fourth official, would seem to be inconsequential, given none of this was mentioned.
Now, we are told that “Neymar reacted theatrically” which had the effect of pausing the game for several minutes, as the poor Mexicans “watched in frustration, as he [Neymar] was examined.” But, you see, there would be nothing to examine if there had been no “pressed cleat” on anyone’s ankle. So that frustration would seem to be self-inflicted, as it were. Yet, that isn’t mentioned either.
Fascinatingly, as political parties are prone to do in our country when justifying outrageous behavior by demanding time equal to that used by the opposition (or rarely the media itself) who unmasked the aberrant behavior, and then using that time for their obfuscation of the reality all witnessed, the Times gives equal time to both sides of this issue. Yes, the paper is actually selling us on the idea that there are two sides to deliberating whether stomping on an out of bounds prone player’s surgically repaired foot is a thing to be condoned.
So we are treated to Brazilian coach Tite’s response, which the Times labeled as “put the blame on Layun,” which was, actually, succinctly “You just have to look at the video.” Layun was also allowed to pitch his view “I think he’s a player with a lot of talent who hopefully one day dedicates himself to playing a little more.” One can only wonder if Layun meant in the forthcoming Paralympics his cleats were trying to qualify Neymar to come compete in.
Osorio was quoted as saying “It’s a man’s sport; I think there shouldn’t be so much acting.” It was not made clear whether he meant Layun’s pretense or acting at being a professional athlete instead of a thug or Osorio’s own acting, you know, as in pretending there was no need to address his player’s flagrantly violent act, which was anything but sportsmanlike behavior.
In short, Brazil won 2—0, and with any luck we won’t have to see or hear from anyone who has so far attempted unsuccessfully to knock Neymar out of the tournament using non-sporting acts. Unfortunately, FIFA and the media have condoned such acts and one can only wonder if they will be the deciding factor in who wins the 2018 World Cup in Russia.