Brazil striker Neymar was airlifted from Brazil’s training camp in a medical helicopter and will be treated at home for the back injury that ruled him out of the last two games of the World Cup.
Neymar was on a stretcher when he was transferred from an ambulance into the helicopter that took off Saturday afternoon from one of Brazil’s practice pitches in the city of Teresopolis, about an hour from Rio de Janeiro.
The player was taken to his home in the city of Guaruja in Sao Paulo state, where he will continue to undergo treatment for the fractured vertebra sustained late in Brazil’s 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Sports channels broadcast live as Neymar — who is a star on the field and a celebrity off of it — waved briefly from his stretcher inside the helicopter before the doors were closed and the aircraft flew away.
Medical staff spent several minutes securing the Brazilian striker inside the helicopter as his father and the president of the Brazilian football confederation, Jose Maria Marin, watched closely.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff published a letter of support to “a great warrior.”
“Your expression of pain on the field yesterday (Friday) hurt my heart and the hearts of every Brazilian,” she said. “I know that as a Brazilian you never give up, and sooner than expected you will be back filling our souls with happiness and our history with success.”
Several players and many Brazilian celebrities also showed their support to the Brazilian star through social media.
Neymar had flown back to Rio de Janeiro with the rest of his Brazil teammates after the match in Fortaleza, then rode in an ambulance the rest of the way to the team’s training camp in Teresopolis.
When the plane arrived in Rio early Saturday, teammates came one by one to embrace him as he sat in a wheelchair waiting to be taken into the ambulance.
The 22-year-old Neymar broke his third vertebra after being kneed in the back by Colombian player Juan Camillo Zuniga in the 86th minute at the Arena Castelao.
Doctors said he will not need surgery but is expected to be sidelined for at least four weeks. The player is wearing a strap to help keep his back immobilized.
Seeking its sixth world title, Brazil will play Germany in Tuesday’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte. The final is next Sunday, with the third-place game a day earlier.
Neymar was carried off the field in tears on a stretcher and “screamed in pain in the dressing room” before being taken to a hospital for tests, the Brazilian confederation said in a statement.
Neymar had been one of the standout players of the World Cup, scoring four goals in the team’s first three games.
Fans watching the Argentina vs. Belgium quarterfinal in Brasilia on Wednesday at times chanted “Neymar, Neymar.”