Kazan: It indeed is a dream match for both Brazil and Belgium coaches when the two sides face-off at the Kazan Arena here for a place in the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup. Both Tite and Roberto Martinez have admitted on numerous occasions that Belgium and Brazil are the favourites for the title and hence the regard they have for the opposition is crystal clear.
Belgium coach Martinez has admitted he has no secrets as he plots to end Brazil’s bid for a record-extending sixth World Cup. But the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’ has been reminded that the match against favourites Brazil could represent the last chance for them to shine on the world stage.
“It’s a dream match for our players,” Martinez told Belgian press after the 3-2 victory over Japan. “There won’t be many secrets to the game. We have to defend as well as we can and then punish them when we have the ball.”
And to ‘punish’ the Selecao, the Belgian coach indicated Thursday that he would resort to power against a Brazilian defence that simply has been superb throughout the tournament. In fact, the attacking flair of Brazil has been forgotten and the football pundits are raving about the performances of centre-backs Thiago Silva and Miranda.
To break that impregnable back four, Martinez indicated that Marouane Fellaini, who came in as a substitute in the game against Japan and scored the second goal to restore parity, may start in the first XI.
“As a coach I have a lot of options with this team but I know in my head what I want to do,” Martinez said. “We will need power. If we show the same mentality as we did Monday, we have a big chance.”
On paper, a Belgium side containing the talents of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City and Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku have the potential to cause a World Cup upset. However, it is the defence that is a worry for Belgium having conceded four goals so far. Japan could not punish them fully for the mistakes they committed, but a side having the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus will certainly do so.
Neymar signalled he had well and truly put a recent injury lay-off behind him with an incisive performance in a 2-0 win over Mexico in Samara, where he scored the opener and set up Roberto Firmino for his maiden World Cup goal.
Even more is expected from Neymar, whose pace, technique and all-round vision allied to Willian’s slick movement gave Brazil another dimension. But they will certainly miss the Real Madrid ‘blocker’ Casemiro who will miss the game due to suspension.
But even then Silva is not worried. “We’re progressing, that’s evident. The graph will be upwards from here only,” he said after the Mexico game. “It was a complicated match against a dangerous side, but we were solid at the back.”
The team war will also have smaller individual battles. Romelu Lukaku who has scored four goals for the Red Devils so far will certainly try to outshine Neymar. Both Hazard and De Bryune will try to win their war against Coutinho and Paulinho.
Football may be a team game, but there is no substitute for individual brilliance – Pele proved it, Maradona proved it, Messi came close to proving it and now the Hazard, Neymar and a few more have the opportunity to prove it.
Can they… Friday will have all the answers.