The tournament's poster boy with the dyed-blonde fauxhawk fractured a vertebra in his back during Brazil's 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Colombia on Friday. The injury has ruled the striker out of the rest of the competition, dealing a massive blow to the team's chances of finally winning a World Cup at home.
Brazil advanced to the semifinals for the first time in 12 years, with the goals coming from defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz. But the jubilation was quickly tempered when Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said Neymar broke his third vertebrae and is expected to be out for several weeks, ruling him out of Tuesday's semifinal match against Germany in Belo Horizonte.
"It's a situation that leaves us in a difficult position for the match against Germany," Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. "But we have great players and if I have to change something I will do it and we will be OK."
The 22-year-old Neymar has been the focal point of both the Brazilian team and the entire World Cup, and he lived up to expectations with four goals in the first three matches.
But he took a knee to the back late in the match against Colombia at the Arena Castelao in a collision with Juan Camilo Zuniga. The Brazilian star was crying in pain as he was carried off the field, and was taken to a private clinic. He has since been released.
"He will not be in condition to play, he will need a few weeks to be fit again," said Lasmar, the team doctor. "He is very, very sad."
The foul on Neymar came toward the end of one of the dirtiest games of the tournament as Brazil committed 31 fouls and Colombia had 23.
Brazil will also be without Silva for Tuesday's match against Germany. The captain must sit out after getting his second yellow card of the tournament after impeding Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.
Brazil, which is trying to become the first host to win the World Cup since France in 1998, had been eliminated in the quarterfinals at the last two tournaments. The "Selecao" lost to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals in 2010 and to France in 2006 after winning its fifth title in 2002.
Back in 1950, Brazil needed only a draw in the final match to win the World Cup, but the team lost to Uruguay in a match known as the "Maracanazo."
This time around, Brazil won its group and then beat Chile on penalties in the second round.
On Friday against Colombia, Silva gave Brazil the lead in the seventh minute, scoring with his left knee after a corner from Neymar passed through the Colombian defence. He celebrated the goal by pointing to the emblem on his jersey and shouting, "This is Brazil, this is Brazil."
Luiz added the second from a free kick in the 69th, side-footing a long-range shot into the top of the net.
Colombia got one back in the 80th. James Rodriguez scored his tournament-leading sixth goal from the penalty spot after Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar brought down substitute Carlos Bacca inside the area.
Rodriguez tried to control the pace of the match, but it was Brazil that created most of the scoring chances as Ospina had to make a series of saves in the first half alone.
The Colombians tried to pressure after Rodriguez's late penalty, but Brazil held on with solid defending.
Colombia, playing at the World Cup for the first time since 1998 and in the quarterfinals for the first time ever, had entered the match after scoring 11 goals, second only to the Netherlands.
"After not playing in the World Cup for so long, we were able to show the value of the Colombian football and the talent of some of our players," said Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, an Argentine. "They showed great spirit and presence of mind. They came to play a great World Cup, not just to participate."
There was a lot of talk about Rodriguez and Neymar before the match, but the 22-year-old forwards didn't really deliver in Fortaleza. Rodriguez scored the late penalty but was otherwise mostly ineffective, as was Neymar before he left on a stretcher.
Follow Tales Azzoni at http://www.twitter.com/tazzoni