BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Neymar will leave with his image untarnished by Brazil's disastrous World Cup loss to Germany, widely seen as the player in charge of helping the national team recover from the historic home defeat.
Neymar's first World Cup ended in disappointment when he was carried off the field on a stretcher with a fractured vertebra.
He was recovering at home when Brazil self-destructed in the 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals, helping shield him from attacks by critics ready to question his potential for greatness.
While Brazil's national team will remain discredited for some time, Neymar's World Cup will be remembered mostly for his good performances until the back injury prematurely ended his tournament.
Fans loudly booed Brazil's entire team after the final whistle in the match against Germany last Tuesday. The criticism of players continued unabated and was likely to continue on Saturday when the hosts play the Netherlands for third place in Brasilia.
Neymar seems to be the only one being spared.
"Neymar is our only hero," said Lucas Oliveira, a 15-year-old Brazilian fan in Brasilia. "The only reason Brazil lost the way it did was because Neymar wasn't playing."
The 22-year-old Neymar was carrying the nation's hopes for a title at home until he took a knee in the back during the quarterfinal win over Colombia.
Neymar is expected to remain sidelined for another few weeks to fully heal from the lower back injury that resulted from a collision with Juan Camilo Zuniga.
Images of Neymar crying in pain were broadcast around the world, but from the beginning doctors said the injury was not serious enough to jeopardize his career.
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