SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Brazil captain Neymar has denied insulting a referee after being sent off in the Copa America game against Colombia, calling the incident a mix-up.
Neymar received a four-game suspension after the incident in last week's group game.
CONMEBOL said Neymar was given such a lengthy ban because he grabbed the referee by the arms and insulted him in the tunnel to the changing rooms.
But Neymar said he only waited in the tunnel to ask the referee why he was sent off, and claimed that a commotion started after people thought he was going to do something else to the referee.
"Almost nothing happened in the tunnel," Neymar told Globo TV before leaving Santiago late Monday. "I was inside the tunnel and I knew that (the ref) was coming, so I ended up waiting for him to ask why he sent me off. But then there was a commotion, with security and other people thinking that I was nervous and maybe was going to hit him or something like that."
A CONMEBOL official told The Associated Press that the punishment against Neymar was aggravated by the fact that the player waited for the referee inside the tunnel.
The Barcelona star was sent off after kicking the ball toward Colombia's Pablo Armero after the referee blew for fulltime in the Group C game in which Brazil lost 1-0. Neymar also appeared to try to head-butt another player who came to confront him, igniting a brief brawl between players from both teams. Colombia's Carlos Bacca, who shoved Neymar from behind, also was sent off after the altercation.
"I hope we can all learn from this," the 23-year-old Neymar said.
During the game, Neymar had been shown his second yellow card of the tournament — which would have brought him a one-match ban.
Neymar watched from the stands on Sunday as Brazil advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Venezuela. He left the squad a day later after the Brazilian confederation decided not to appeal the suspension.
Neymar missed the decisive stages of the World Cup at home last year after sustaining an injury late in the quarterfinal match against Colombia. He couldn't play in Brazil's 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals or in the 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in the third-place game.
"Brazil can still win matches, can still win the Copa America," Neymar said. "Brazil still has great players, they can handle this."