By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) - Colombia were kicked out of the World Cup by a bruising Brazil team who committed 31 fouls and stretched the laws of the game to the limits on their way to a 2-1 quarter-final win on Friday.
Spanish referee Carlos Velasco stood by and watched as Colombia, who have delighted the world with flowing, attacking soccer were drawn into a kicking match by the hosts who were clearly intent on stopping their opponents playing by any means.
Velasco waited for 41 fouls to be committed before pulling out his first yellow card, well into the second half, and his leniency allowed Brazil carte blanche to freely use tactical fouling in midfield.
Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez, arguably the top player in the tournament, took a fearful battering as Brazil adopted a rotation system in which players took it in turns to foul him.
To add insult to injury, Rodriguez was one of four players booked in the 54-foul match.
Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar was lucky to escape a red card for a legs-first foul on Carlos Bacca which led to the penalty that Rodriguez converted for Colombia's 80th minute goal.
At times, the match looked like a bad day in the Libertadores Cup, the South American equivalent of the Champions League which has a turbulent history of violence and skullduggery.
Although Brazil were the main perpetrators, Colombia also got involved, more out of necessity than choice, and it was Neymar who came off worse, suffering a fractured vertebrae that the team doctor said had ruled him out of the World Cup.
The Brazil forward was carried off on a stretcher near the end and taken to hospital, crying in pain after receiving a knee in the back from Colombia defender Juan Camilo Zuniga who, in a sadly familiar routine, escaped without a booking.
Brazil's performance, which has set up a semi-final against Germany, bore the hallmarks of their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was criticized in the run-up to the match after his players exposed their nerves during the second round win over Chile.
Scolari has mellowed over the years but won a certain amount of notoriety during his club career in Brazil for the methods used by his teams.
During a stint with Cruzeiro, he noted that his team gave away an average of 25 fouls per match but said that was one of the lowest numbers in the Brazilian championship at the time.
When he was at Palmeiras, there was uproar after a television crew outside the changing room recorded a private team talk in which he urged his players to kick a member of the opposing team.
The man known as "Big Phil" also used other tactics such as throwing spare balls on to the field to disrupt an opposing team's attacks.
Scolari was certainly not alone and there was a period in Brazilian soccer around 10 years ago where some coaches believed that committing more fouls than the opposition was the key to winning the game.
Many of Scolari's contemporaries came to regard fouls as a tactical resource rather than an infringement of the laws of the game.
Since returning for a second stint as Brazil coach in November 2012, Scolari has once again got his team playing to the limits of the law.
When his side thrashed Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final last year, they managed to commit 26 fouls without receiving a single yellow card.
FIFA's refereeing head Massimo Busacca told Reuters in an interview in November that referees should nip the problem in the bud if they sensed a team were using tactical fouls.
"If you realize in the first 10 minutes that the coach has prepared the game (plan) in that way, you have to understand what is happening and... you have to do something," he said.
"This is what we expect from top referees... to understand how the coach prepared the game, respect the other team and say now we have to stop this type of play."
But the message clearly did not get through to Velasco and raised questions as to why FIFA picked a European referee to officiate at a game between two South American teams in conditions he did not seem to be familiar with.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)