Kazan: The football world came to a standstill once more as Belgium stunned five-time champions Brazil 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the World Cup here Friday. Brazil and football are synonymous and the Selecao have supporters in all corners of the world – even in India. For those Indians who had pinned their hopes on Brazil and spent sleepless nights to watch them in action it was indeed a moment of despair.
As is usually the case, Brazil created more chances, missed most of them and were shown the exit route by the Red Devli’s. Tite’s team had come here with the vow to forget the 1-7 humiliation they suffered in the last edition of the tournament at Belo Horizonte. But they couldn’t and their left-back Marcelo summed it up as ‘a similar night to the one we suffered at in 2014’.
A Fernandinho own goal and a brilliant Kevin de Bruyne strike, after Thiago Silva had hit the post for Brazil, earned Belgium a date Tuesday with neighbours France in St Petersburg, their second trip to the last four at a World Cup after 1986. The consolation goal for Brazil was scored by substitute Renato Augusto’s with a header.
Roared on by the vast majority of the crowd at the Kazan Arena, the Brazilians poured forward to try and keep their campaign alive but Roberto Firmino, Augusto and Philippe Coutinho could not convert gilt-edged opportunities to level the scores.
Neymar ran at the Belgium defence until the end but had a second penalty appeal waved away by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic and a final shot tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as the last few seconds ticked away.
If Belgium’s first goal in the 13th minute had an element of luck, with the ball going into the net off Fernandinho’s shoulder from a corner, the second in the 31st minute was a perfect example of counter-attacking football.
Romelu Lukaku took the ball with his back to goal, turned into space and stormed up the pitch past Fernandinho before releasing De Bruyne on his right for the playmaker to rifle the ball into the net from the edge of the box.
Man of the match De Bruyne, playing in a more advanced role than he had in Belgium’s previous four matches, was at the heart of his team’s best work, managing the transition from rearguard defence to attack with vision, pace and accuracy.
But then there was another man who stood out. Playing in an unusual role as ‘blocker’ in front of five defenders, Marouane Fellaini excelled. In the last game against Japan, he had come in a substitute to bring his side back in the game with a superbly headed goal. Friday, he was the first challenge Brazil faced in their attempts on the Belgian goal. He blocked, he tackled and when the situation required he held and shielded the ball to slow down the game which Brazil did not enjoy.
Roberto Martinez knew that to stop the skilful and marauding Brazilians, he would have to come out with something new from the bag. He did exactly that – he used power and height. There were at least six Belgian players who were more than 6’2” tall and strongly-built. As a result, whenever there was body contact, the Brazilians came out second best.
Then there was the Casemiro factor, who missed the game due to suspension. Fernandinho, who replaced him failed to enact the same role. After conceding an own goal, Fernandinho, in his urge to rectify his mistake repeatedly went up in attack, thereby leaving vacant spaces for the fast counter-attacking Belgians to exploit. He was partly responsible for the second goal to, failing to stop Lukaku.
Finally, Neymar. Much was expected of him, but other than taking two shots on goal, the world’s costliest player was guilty of clinging on to the ball thereby making it easy for the Belgians to mark him. And with Coutinho, not at his ebullient best, Brazil ran out of ideas close to the Belgian box.
Another World Cup gone and Brazil, like always touted the best in business, have nothing to show for. The Belgians deserved to win. No doubt about that.