FIFA 2018 World Cup: 5 takeaways Brazil vs Belgium, 1-2
FIFA 2018 World Cup: 5 takeaways Brazil vs Belgium, 1-2
Brazil’s quest for an elusive sixth World Cup crown prolonged for another edition at least as the tournament’s hot favourites were dumped out by a resilient Belgium, who’ve burnished their darkhorse credentials.
An own goal from Fernandinho inside the first quarter of the match put the Red Devils ahead, before another counter-attacking masterclass saw Kevin De Bruyne increasing the cushion to two with a spectacular low drive.
The Seleccao were livelier in the second-half, but saw so many chances go abegging. Renato Augusto halved the deficit to inspire hope, but for all the huff and puff, Belgium (19/1 favourites to win the World Cup) stood firm and sealed only their second ever semi-final berth, where they’ll face France on Tuesday.
Another one bites the dust, as the World Cup continues to be ridiculously unpredictable.
The major takeaways from an enthralling clash in Kazan:
#1 Belgium’s attacking interplay leaves Brazil in knots
Having made the mistake of playing Kevin De Bruyne in the defensive midfield role against Japan in the last 16, manager Roberto Martinez played the Manchester City ace straight down the centre, while striker Romelu Lukaku was shunted to the wings. The ploy was to bamboozle Brazil with De Bruyne and Lukaku’s switch during the game, and boy it worked wonders!
The Manchester boys often interchanged positions and the Brazilian defenders were left perplexed whom to mark. Lukaku often drifted inwards to allow De Bruyne to sneak into the spaces, or the latter bombed towards the flank to lay off crosses inside the box.
This sweet and smart interplay was in full function in the first 45 minutes of the match when Belgium ran the rings around Brazil and created numerous chances that literally left the Canaries on the edge.
#2 Fernandinho’s shithousery makes Casemiro conspicuous by his absence
Casemiro picked up his second yellow of the tournament against Mexico in the last 16 that ruled him out of the quarter-final clash. That was always going to be a huge loss for Brazil given the incredible balance he brings to the side. Fernandinho acted as a deputy today against Belgium, but was outpaced, outclassed and outmanoeuvred in the midfield.
His evening got off to the worst possible start when he accidentally elbowed a Nacer Chadli corner into his own net, setting the tone for the rest of the match. The Manchester City midfielder was well off the pace whenever Belgium broke on the counter and one of those moments resulted in the second goal. Lukaku drove forward with the ball in the Brazilian half, before laying off for De Bruyne to do the rest. Fernandinho didn’t challenge Lukaku enough initially, as it allowed him to keep moving forward, and after a point almost stopped in his tracks to watch his club mate double the damage.
Even without kicking a ball, Casemiro’s importance to the side was so clear, and how much Brazil missed his services today!
#3 Fellaini repays Martinez’s faith with an incredible show
Marouane Fellaini was an unlikely hero for Belgium in the earlier game when he headed home to equalise and set his side on their way to an emphatic 3-2 win over Japan. Manager Martinez rewarded him for his heroics with a start in today’s game, and he didn’t disappoint.
In fact, Fellaini was immense in the defense, putting himself right ahead of the rearguard to block the shots by acting as a protective cover. He also made 3 successful tackles, 3 clearances and 2 interceptions. Fellaini was on hand to break Brazil’s play through the centre, as he stood tall and repelled most of the efforts.
He was incredible in the air too, winning 9 offensive duels and 3 defensive. That may not have ended up in the back of the net like last time, but Fellaini’s presence cannot be overstated, as he’s one of the important reasons why the likes of Neymar, Coutinho et al were left so frustrated.
#4 Brazil miss plenty of chances
Brazil were uncharacteristically profligate in the match. Even when Belgium had them by the scruff in the first-half, they did manage to carve out chances while the second stanza triggered an avalanche of opportunities. But Brazil squandered each time.
The first one of those fell to Paulinho when he struck limply from a corner when he was unmarked and had the space to bury the ball into. Coutinho once again tried his luck from distance, but his best two efforts were denied by the brilliance of Thibaut Courtois. Neymar was quiet unconvincing in the first spell, but fired after the break. But his efforts either swung over the bar, or sailed harmlessly wide off the post.
The best chance of the second-half however, fell to substitute Renato Augusto just minutes after scoring the goal. Neymar fed him inside the area and Augusto ran into the acre of space opened up between the Belgian defense. But with the goal at his mercy, struck the shot wide off the post. A little more precision would’ve brought Brazil level, while Coutinho too, in another long-range attempt, set the ball on its way into the stands while trying to make a delicate chip.
In all, Brazil had a mind-boggling 27 shots (Belgium had only 9) but only 9 could be aimed on target, and just one could be buried. Brazil were the most prolific side in the CONMEBOL zone during the qualifiers, but didn’t quite hit the right notes in this World Cup. Today, it just hit a new low.
#5 Courtois rises to the occasion
On a night when the great Brazil struggled to find attacking rhythm, it would be unfair to ostracize Thibaut Courtois from the discussion. For the towering Chelsea shotstopper too, had a big role to play in Brazil’s exit.
In what was one of the bigger games in his career, Courtois rose up to the occasion and packed a punch. He brilliantly denied Coutinho by expertly reading the trajectory of the ball before throwing himself into a dive to claim it. He then punched a rebound from Neymar for a corner. He was busier of the outfield players in the second-half, but relished the challenge. At one point, his tall stature helped him parry Neymar’s shot for a corner when it looked certain to make a contact with the post.
He also frustrated Gabriel Jesus and then Douglas Costa with his goalkeeping nous. But at the end of the day, made a total of 9 saves to deny Brazil.
The Belgium defense stood firm when Brazil upped the ante in the final few minutes, but they also have Courtois to thank for in avoiding any late drama and ensuring a safe passage into the last 4.