Brasil crashed and burned out of the World Cup. Belgium took it to Brasil winning 2-1 to advance to the semifinals where they will duke it out with France.
The Daily Mail:” It was a picture of devastation at the end: Neymar down on his haunches and Fernandinho flat on his back, staring into the black night sky after their nation’s third quarter final loss in four World Cups.
What Brazil discovered last night is that all the old assurances about football supremacy have gone. Belgium, a nation of 11 million people, have developed the technical and tactical capacity to beat Brazil, a nation of 207 million.
They out-thought and out-played them for 75 minutes of quite stunning counter-attacking football from which Tite’s side could not find a way back, despite two gilt-edged chances in a devastating finish of their own.
There will be an understandable sense of South American injustice today. As the Belgians tired in the last 15 minutes, Brazil seemed justified in their demands for a penalty after Jesus nutmegged Vertonghen and seemed to be clattered by Kompany. VAR ruled that the ball had already run out of play, though it was in play at the moment of Kompany’s initial contact.
But Belgium did enough. Their golden generation, whose ascent to the higher plateau has been long awaited, delivered at last. And on a night which enhances Roberto Martinez’s hugely, their tactics were smarter, surprising Brazil for a first half which saw the game put out of their reach.
Martinez switched Romelu Lukaku to the right of the attacking line and created space to deploy de Bruyne as a withdrawn striker, driving forward between the midfield and defensive lines. Though the usual back three also became a four as soon as they fell out of possession, Belgium took the bold risk of keeping two men up.
‘I think that when you play Brazil, you have to get a tactical advantage,’ Martinez said last night. ‘It would be too easy to hope that you bring your game and win the football game. We had to be brave, tactically.’
Brazil contributed to their own fate, too. The suspension of Casemiro – the granite-like presence in front of the Brazilian defence – had always seemed beforehand to create a chink of light for the Belgians but no-one imagined quite how much.
Defensively, they were fragile. The pace of de Bruyne, with Lukaku and, gradually, Hazard, blew a hole through heart of their side.
There was early good fortune for Belgium. Nacer Chadli’s inswinging corner glanced off the top of Vincent Kompany’s head and was diverted in off the Manchester City midfielder’s shoulder.
But it was as they looked to draw level that Brazil looked vulnerable. They left space behind and Belgium had them precisely where they wanted. Lukaku’s contribution had been erratic for the first half hour but gained possession in front of his own penalty area, stormed beyond Fernandinho and drove a ball out right to De Bruyne.
Marcelo allowed him the Manchester City player a criminal amount of time to stop, assess and and take aim, which he did despatched the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
‘I think we switched things up, tactically speaking,’ de Bruyne reflected. ‘Brazil didn’t know what they had to do.’ Marouane Fellaini added steel in a monumental display at the back of the Belgium midfeild and Jan Vertonghen contributed to Belgium’s fierce defensive resolve.
For Brazil, there was no way through. Neymar was a marginal presence. Gabriel Jesus skewed a headed chance he was presented with. Coutinho was reduced to taking aim from distance.
Tite went all out for salvation and to turn back the weight of history. Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino was sent into a 4-2-4 formation and the side did begin find a way back.
After the penalty appeal, Jesus made way for Douglas Costa on the hour and he was dangerous. Thibaut Courtois’ leap to his right to save was part of a monumental display from him.
For pure, individual attacking talent, Belgium continued to deliver what generations have come to expect of Brazil. In the blink of an eye, they cleared two thirds of the field and almost scored again. Chadli dispossessed Fernandino on the Brazil right and found De Bruyne, who flashed a left foot shot inches wide.
As Brazil drove on and on, looking for a foothold in the game, it became a question of whether the Belgians could on. With 15 minutes to run they were tiring, Fellaini and the defenders were struggling to find the same competitive intent which had put them on the brink of this victory.
The attacking menace all came through Coutinho who was given a fraction of space on 767 minutes which allowed him to deliver the cross for which substitute Renato Augusto leapt, this time leaving Kompany and Alderweireld standing, to direct home a header.
Then, the two chances which will be haunting Brazil today. Augusto ran through on goal, fed by Coutinho, and blasted wide. Coutinho ran in himself, fed by Neymar, and did the same.
In the aftermath, Tite rejected the Europeans – who have all four semi-final berths – possess a pragmatism that the South Americans lack.
‘It’s a team that solid and aggressive,’ he said. ‘Randomness happens and it was harsh on us. There are European teams left – that is normal. I dont think [pragmatism] is a determining factor.’ So Brazil repair home, their wait for a sixth World Cup extended to 20 years at least, wondering what they must do to clinch it again.