Belgium have shocked the world by defeating five-time world champions Brazil to reach their first semi-final of a World Cup, for the first time since 1986. Hailed as the ‘Golden Generation,’ Roberto Martinez’ men have fought tooth and nail throughout this World Cup, with a world-class finish from Kevin De Bruyne and an own goal from Fernandinho, they are one step closer to their first World Cup final in their history.
Brazil almost got the advantage early on, with star striker Neymar curling in, flicking off the head of Miranda, but the follow up from his centre-back partner and captain, Thiago Silva, was miscued and hit the post.
‘The Red Devils’ went on to receive a corner of their own, West Bromwich Albion’s Nacer Chadli hooked it in towards Vincent Kompany, he missed it but Brazil and Manchester City midfielder, Fernandinho, accidently guided the ball into his own net to give Belgium the advantage inside the first 15 minutes.
It was full speed ahead for Belgium from then on, when Romelu Lukaku bolted forward taking on the Brazilian defence before being bundled over by Paulinho. However, it was too little, too late, as Lukaku had found Kevin De Bruyne, who after a couple of touches launched the ball from outside the box past Allison to double the lead.
It was always going to be an uphill battle from this point for Brazil, as Tite’s side tried to fight back to close the gap, as Marcelo’s cross deflected off of Thomas Meunier and almost snuck past Thibaut Courtios. Brazil kept pressing, from the following corner Marcelo found Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho who tried to bend the ball with finesse around Courtios but the Chelsea number one got a big hand too it.
In the second half, Neymar tried the theatrics that have caused so much controversy in this World Cup, when he found himself in the area and went down to Marouane Fellani’s challenge, however VAR was not called into action. And yet when VAR was called into question, it seemed the referee made the wrong decision. When Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus rounded Jan Vertonghen, Kompany came in with a sliding tackle and seemed to catch Jesus before the ball, and yet referee, Milorad Mazic, made the call of no penalty.
Belgium then continued to control the game through their physicality with Fellani and Axel Wistel making sure that Brazil could not play their passes without colliding with them and breaking up the attack. Eden Hazard had the chance to put the game to bed towards the end, but his shot fizzed wide of the far post.
Brazil found a consolation goal towards the end, which sparked hope once again, as Coutinho flicked the ball over the top of the Belgium defence as Reanto Augusto headed the ball past Courtios. Coming forward once again almost immediately after, Neymar found his way into the area again, slid the ball to Coutinho who sliced it completely wide. Neymar had one last chance to help his country bending the ball from outside the box, before Courtios barely got a finger to it to keep it out, crushing the hope of Brazil and sent Belgium into dreamland.
What now for both sides?
Belgium have now gone 24 games in a row without defeat, the greatest winning streak in the sides history. With only one win away from their first ever World Cup final, and a date with France looming in the near future, Roberto Martinez could shock the world once again, just like he did with Wigan Athletic in 2013, when he won the FA Cup at Wembley against Manchester City. From being sacked at Everton more than two years ago, to being two matches away from lifting footballs most prestigious prize.
As for Brazil, they join the long list of names such as Germany, Argentina, Spain and Portugal of big name sides to all be eliminated from the tournament before the semi-final. There was a lot of questions asked of this team, “Can they bounce back after losing 7-1 to Germany in their own soil?” and “Can Neymar prove he can do it on the world stage?” In short, Brazil have made strides to make themselves a better team in the past four years, however I do believe Neymar has fallen from grace in terms of his behaviour. The theatrics and dives have just added more fuel to the fire to his critics, and only scoring two goals, shows that he still has a lot to learn. No doubt he possesses talent on the scale of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and has proven it time and again. And yet, he hasn’t been regarded in the same bracket as these two stars because of his antics. Either way, Neymar and Brazil have a lot of work to do if they are become the world beaters they once were.