In just about any World Cup finals tournament, injuries to major players are almost an inevitability. That said, it’s always scary whenever one does happen – especially for the supporters of the country that player represents. During this World Cup alone, we’ve seen plenty of injuries, and such incidents have had an impact in some form or another on the team’s success (or lack thereof) at the tournament. For this list, we’ll be counting down the 10 biggest injuries that happened within these World Cup finals in Brazil.
These 10 men have made this list for a variety of reasons; some are their country’s best players, others are bit-part players that represent a bigger problem for their team. Some of these injuries represent a devastating blow to certain teams, while others are just one of many small factors putting strain on a country during the tournament. For some, such as Gianluigi Buffon and Samuel Eto’o, this is likely going to be the last time we see them on football’s biggest international stage. However you slice it, it’s a shame to have to see their campaign at the tournament negatively impacted by injury, as inevitable as footballing injuries tend to be in any major tournament.
As this 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil finally winds down after a month of football, we’ve seen all sorts of major events as the tournament’s progressed, and injuries are certainly no exception. Sadly, they never have been, either. Whether a country competing in the World Cup decides to let it drag them down or use it as motivation to do even better than they would have with that player is a different story altogether. In the case of a team like Germany, they’ve quite clearly done the latter. Here are the 10 biggest injuries at this year’s World Cup.
10 Shkodran Mustafi -- Germany
Although he’s obviously not one of Germany’s more important players, Sampdoria defender Shkodran Mustafi makes this list largely as an example of Germany’s poor luck with injuries leading up to – and during – this World Cup. An injury call-up himself – he replaced Marco Reus prior to the start of the tournament – Mustafi tore a muscle in his right thigh in Germany’s Round of 16 matchup against Algeria, ending his tournament early. Other than him and Reus, other players to have been forced to miss out on Brazil to injury for the Germans include Marcel Schmelzer, Lars Bender and Ilkay Gundogan. Despite all these setbacks Germany still managed to claim the Jules Rimet trophy and find their place in the history books as World Cup champions for the fourth time.
9 Gianluigi Buffon -- Italy
His more significant World Cup injury actually came four years ago during Italy’s poor campaign in the group stage in South Africa that saw them finish bottom, but Gianluigi Buffon makes this list not for the negative impact of his injury, but for the fact that he probably might have been better off not returning so soon. After suffering an ankle injury in training, Buffon had to let Salvatore Sirigu take his place between the sticks against England, with Italy winning 2-1. Once Buffon was back, the Azzurri lost their next two games against Costa Rica and Uruguay and crashed out early once again.
8 Samuel Eto'o -- Cameroon
At 33 years old, this was most certainly Samuel Eto’o’s last shot at making a big splash in a World Cup finals with Cameroon. Sadly for Les Lions Indomptables, their campaign during this tournament was marked by division and conflict within the team, and they finished once again by not making it past the group stage. Worse for Eto’o, he suffered a knee injury that ended his World Cup campaign prematurely. After playing only their first match against Mexico, Eto’o missed out on their next two games against Croatia and Brazil – both of which were big losses at 4-0 and 4-1 respectively.
7 Fabio Coentrao -- Portugal
As far as their defensive core is concerned, Portugal’s World Cup campaign could not have started off any worse. With Pepe having been sent off in their first game against Germany (which they lost 4-0), his Real Madrid teammate Fabio Coentrao ended up sustaining a thigh injury in the second half, ruling him out of the rest of the tournament. It turned out that Coentrao would not end up missing that much else: although Portugal got a point against the U.S. and won their final group match against Ghana, they crashed out early thanks to the U.S. having superior goal difference.
6 Jozy Altidore -- USA
After being drawn in the group of death and with the first game of their campaign having barely even started, Jozy Altidore’s World Cup-ending hamstring injury seemed like rubbing salt into the wounds of American soccer fans. Although Jozy’s striking ability was indeed missed, it didn’t stop the Stars and Stripes from beating Ghana 2-1 in their first game, and securing a point against Portugal in the next to seal progression to the Round of 16. However, despite a 16-save performance from Tim Howard, Altidore’s offensive firepower could have been useful in that game against Belgium, which the U.S. lost 2-1 in extra time.
5 Sergio Aguero -- Argentina
Following an injury sustained against Nigeria in their last group stage match where he tore his left thigh muscle, it looked as if Sergio Aguero’s World Cup was over. However, he returned to action against Netherlands in the semifinals as a substitute – perhaps his injury wasn’t as bad as feared, given that he pranced around the dressing room in jubilation during the celebration of their quarterfinal victory against Belgium. That said, he was fit to play against Germany in the final and was no stranger to controversy as he violently challenged Sebastian Schweinsteiger on a yellow card but managed to stay in the game.
4 Javier Mascherano -- Argentina
Despite having made some key tackles – particularly against Arjen Robben toward the end of regulation time – to keep Argentina alive against the Netherlands during the semifinal matchup between the two countries, Javier Mascherano makes this list by having sustained not one but two injuries in the game. After first sustaining a concussion following his blocking of a header from Georginio Wijnaldum and continuing to play despite it, Mascherano’s game-saving tackle against Robben caused him another injury problem altogether: according to the Barcelona man, he tore his anus in making the tackle. With an injury like that, there’s only one thing that can really be said: ouch.
3 Angel di Maria -- Argentina
After a very good season at Real Madrid and as a key player in Argentina’s World Cup qualifying campaign, it was natural for many to assume that Angel di Maria would be among the best offensive players for the Albiceleste at this year’s finals. Not to say he wasn’t – in fact, he scored the goal that gave Argentina a victory in extra time in their Round of 16 clash with Switzerland – but having torn a muscle in his thigh against Belgium in the quarterfinals, that would sadly prove to be enough to rule di Maria out of the rest of the tournament.
2 Alvaro Pereira -- Uruguay
This particular injury doesn’t make it this high because of the significance of the player who suffered it – Pereira isn’t exactly among Uruguay’s best players – but because of the significance of the cause behind it. Although concussions are more of a hot-button injury topic in a sport like hockey, it got pushed into the spotlight during this World Cup for the footballing world thanks in part to Pereira being kneed in the head by England’s Raheem Sterling during their group stage clash. Despite being temporarily unconscious, Pereira soldiered on and played the entire game without being subbed off. However, it’s brought the issue of concussions back to the footballing forefront, and it remains to be seen how seriously FIFA will take it.
1 Neymar -- Brazil
Of any Brazilian player to have gotten injured at all during this tournament, there is no member of the Seleção that its supporters would have liked to have that happen to less. Sadly for Brazil and its home fans, its marquee player Neymar suffered a fractured vertebra after being kneed from behind by Colombian player Juan Cuadrado during their quarterfinal tilt in Fortaleza which Brazil won 2-1, and was stretchered off the pitch. The injury ruled Neymar out of the rest of the tournament, and it was clear the team was lost without him: they were routed badly by Germany 7-1 in the semifinal match.