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FIFA 2018: It's Brazlian flair against Belgium’s golden generation
06 July 2018

The teams have progressed through different means but each arrive with confidence after rousing wins in their last starts.

In a World Cup of disasters — if you were rooting for any of the traditionalist super-powers — Brazil has bucked the trend to book a clash against Belgium, with a place in the semifinals up for grabs.

After years of dour, unimaginative football, the Latin Americans have again found their soul with Tite marrying the individual Brazilian flair with disciplined defending. 

The team, boasting the best defensive record in the event (alongside Uruguay), has also scored seven goals, with Neymar — taking a break from showboating — finally showcasing his genius in a match-winning effort against a tenacious Mexico. 

Acknowledging the Paris Saint-Germain striker’s role in the team, Tite said: “Neymar has been brilliant for us and I don’t need to pay attention to what others say. You can look at his actions, transitions, and his involvement in defensive transitions. He is playing his part in taking back the ball, in taking back the space. That sense of teamwork has been the best virtue.”

The Brazilians, however, will miss the services of suspended Real Madrid midfield enforcer Casemiro, with Fernandinho expected to take his place. The team’s defensive solidity has been forged by the stellar work of Miranda and Thiago Silva in central defence, with Brazil opting for zonal marking to shut out its opponents.

 

FIFA 2018: It's Brazlian flair against Belgium’s golden generation

“We mark the sectors. We don’t mark individually. You don’t run around and mark each player. We aggressively mark each sector of the pitch, which is why we block so many shots and so many crosses,” Tite, whose side has only allowed four shots on target, said.

The free-scoring Belgians, though, are expected to pose a sterner challenge. The tournament’s highest-scoring team (12 goals) breezed through the group stage, with striker Romelu Lukaku scoring four goals as Belgium won all its three games.

 

 

If there is one glimmer of hope for Belgium, it might be the suspension of holding midfielder Casemiro, who picked up his second yellow card during the Mexico game.

The Real Madrid man has been key to Brazil's structure, so his likely replacement, the 33-year-old Fernandinho of Manchester City, will have big shoes to fill.

“The creative power of Belgium is very strong. Two teams that play beautiful football with different characteristics will offer a great game. It will require more of our technical capability and focus,” the Brazilian coach said. “Belgium repeated the standards in every game with some tweaks. We are ready for all situations.”

Roberto Martinez, who had to ditch his creative game for a more direct approach, introducing Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in the game against Japan, understands the need for raw force to disrupt Brazil’s play. 

“We will need power. If we show the same mentality as we did on Monday, we have a big chance,” Martinez said. “It’s a dream match for our players, they were born to play in a match like this. Naturally, we want to win but we are not expected to and that is an important difference.”

But the necessity to add muscle will need a tactical tweak from Martinez. The three-man defence, his preference so far, might come under increased pressure from the fluid interplay between Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, and the manager might look to introduce Fellaini in central midfield and allow Kevin De Bruyne to operate further up, to create maximum trouble for the Brazilian defence.

The Selecao, knocked out by European sides in the last three World Cups, look poised to negotiate this tricky affair but the Belgian golden generation is ready for a pitched battle.

Key stats:

* Brazil have not lost in their last 16 competitive matches.

* Belgium are unbeaten in 22 matches. Their last defeat in a competitive match was to Wales in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016.

* Brazil are unbeaten at the tournament. They started with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland then beat Costa Rica (2-0), Serbia (2-0) and Mexico (2-0).

* Belgium have won all of their matches in Russia, beating Panama (3-0), Tunisia (5-2), England (1-0) and Japan (3-2)

* Brazil have won the World Cup five times but have been knocked out in the quarter-finals in two of the last three tournaments.

* Belgium reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and the semi-finals in 1986 when they were beaten by a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina.

* Brazil have kept 19 clean sheets in 25 international matches under coach Tite. They conceded precisely one goal in each of the other six games.

* Belgium have scored more goals than any other team at the tournament (12).

* Brazil have won three of four penalty shootouts at the World Cup, including the one that decided the 1994 final against Italy.

* Belgium won their only World Cup penalty shootout against Spain in the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament.

* Brazil forward Neymar has had 24 shots in Russia, more than anyone else at the tournament.

* Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku is the second highest goalscorer at the tournament with four.

* Brazil's Casemiro will miss the match after picking up two yellow cards.

* Yellow cards will be wiped after the completion of the quarter-finals but Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Filipe Luis all have a single caution and would still miss the semi-final if Brazil get through and they pick up another in Kazan.

* Kevin de Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen, Leander Dendoncker, Thomas Meunier and Youri Tielemans are in the same position for Belgium.

Previous meetings:

Brazil and Belgium have played each other four times. Brazil has won three of the clashes, including the most recent in the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup. Belgium won the first, a friendly, 5-1 in 1963.

 

 

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