FORTALEZA, Brazil, (AFP) - Brazil striker Neymar was ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup on Friday, dealing the hosts a crushing blow just hours after they battled through to a semi-final showdown with Germany.
A pulsating opening day of quarter-final action saw Brazil advance to the last four with a 2-1 victory over Colombia after Germany defeated old rivals France 1-0 at the Maracana Stadium.
But Brazil's bruising win over Colombia was immediately overshadowed by news that Neymar would miss the rest of the tournament after suffering a fractured vertebra.
The 22-year-old was carried off grimacing in agony after an aerial collision with Colombia defender Juan Camilo Zuniga towards the end of the contest. Neymar got a knee in the back.
"The exam showed he suffered a fracture of the third vertebra" in his back, Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said.
The Barcelona superstar has been integral to Brazil's World Cup campaign so far, scoring four goals during the World Cup hosts journey to the last four.
His injury is bound to focus attention on the performance of Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who allowed several rugged challenges from both sides go unpunished throughout Friday's game.
Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari fumed that Neymar had been targeted by opponents during the tournament.
"I have been saying for three matches that Neymar has been hunted, but all the other countries say it is not true and it is only their players that are hunted," Scolari said.
Zuniga later expressed sympathy for Neymar, and insisted the injury was accidental.
"I've never tried to harm another player," Zuniga said.
"When I'm on the pitch I'm there to defend my country and my shirt -- but there's no intention to hurt anyone."