BRASILIA, Brazil – Neymar has received messages of well wishes from all across the globe following the injury that ended his World Cup, but none were more unexpected – or more classy – than the words of Argentina head coach Alejandro Sabella.
Following Argentina's 1-0 quarterfinal victory over Belgium on Saturday, Sabella was asked if he was "relieved" by Neymar's exit from the tournament due to a fractured vertebra.
It was a loaded question from a Brazilian reporter, and potential pitfalls awaited. Instead, Sabella took a moment, took a breath and broke through the heated rivalry between the two South American countries to deliver a heart-warming tribute to a world-class player.
[Photos: Neymar's World Cup exit in headlines]
"I like football to be well-played and I love great players," Sabella said. "The fact that a team, in this case Brazil, loses such a player of such ability and we all miss the chance to see such a great player is like shedding tears in football. We all feel sad."
Sabella is now 59, but was a highly skilled and technical midfielder during a playing career that saw him represent leading Argentine teams River Plate and Estudiantes and make eight appearances for the national team.
In that sense, his tribute to Neymar is no surprise. However, in light of the animosity between Argentina and Brazil in soccer, and the fact that the teams are tipped by many to meet in the World Cup final, it was a fine gesture.
"I have been a player and I know the worst thing is being injured," Sabella added. "I understand the bitterness and frustration he must feel. The only thing I can do with my experience is to send my embrace, my hug, and let him know that I am with him during these difficult times."
Neymar rejoined his Brazil teammates on Saturday, being brought into the squad's camp in a wheelchair. He left the field in agony during the latter stages of the team's 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Colombia on Friday following a collision with Juan Camilo Zuniga.
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