On any other day, Brazil would've beaten Belgium. At any other World Cup, Brazil would've emerged champions. At Russia 2018, it was just not meant to be. Brazil, for all their attacking quality, the depth in ranks and the well-organised defence, failed to overcome the Belgium challenge and crashed out of the World Cup in the quarter-final. They lost to no ordinary side. They were defeated by a nation's golden generation of players, a team consisting of talismans like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany.
The scoreline read 2-1 against their favour, but Brazil could've easily won the game on Friday and we would've been reading scathing pieces on Roberto Martinez's tactical blunders that led to the end of Belgium's World Cup hopes. But Belgium didn't lose and instead we are praising Martinez's bold switch to make the team play in a 4-3-3 formation.
If Brazil had been little more clinical, a tad bit lucky and not had the misfortune of coming against an inspired Thibaut Courtois, things would've been different for Tite's side.
It's fair to say, going into the match, Brazil were considered favourites to make it to the semis. They had the quality plus they have been doing this for years: winning crucial matches and clinching World Cups. They started the game on a strong note, almost taking the lead but Thiago Silva couldn't convert a good chance from a corner. There were quite a few good runs made by Brazilian attackers, players getting into good positions but just not hitting the back of the net. Like Paulinho's chance in the 10th minute of the match with the midfielder coming up with a weak shot from inside the box.
While Brazil were dominating the possession, Belgium were also probing their opponents on counter-attacks. The idea of playing De Bruyne in the false nine role with Hazard and Lukaku using the width of the ground was showing promise, but not in anyway looking threatening in terms of goals.
When it seemed that Brazil would eventually find an opening and take the lead, they ended up doing a huge favour to Belgium. Fernandinho, who had come into the starting XI replacing Casemiro, scored an own goal, the ball hitting his arm and going inside the net while he was jumping to clear a corner. All of a sudden, Brazil were under pressure thanks to a dreadful mistake from a player who is not known for committing errors.
But the advantage for Brazil was that they had plenty of time to ensure they not only find the equaliser but also go for the win. Having no other option, Brazil showed more urgency after conceding. Courtois, though, was in no mood to give Brazil any chance of making a comeback. Marcelo's fierce left-footer from the left-corner of the box got the best out of Courtois.
With Brazil putting a lot of focus on attack, Belgium focussed their gameplan on counter-attacking: to try and heap more misery on Brazil during breaks and this is exactly what happened. Marouane Fellaini cleared a Neymar corner, Lukaku got hold of the ball, beat Fernandinho and Paulinho while turning and surging ahead from the halfway line. He passed to De Bruyne, who smashed the ball into the bottom right corner from just outside the box to double Belgium's lead.
If Belgium's winner against Japan in the Round of 16 was a textbook counter-attack, the second goal against Brazil went a notch better. The South American nation were now facing a daunting task. But if any team had the ability to overturn a two-goal deficit, it was this Brazil side. Neymar and Coutinho were still on the field.
At the break, Tite removed Willian and introduced Firmino and Brazil were now playing with two genuine forwards. Martinez's team were ready for this. They played at back with four players precisely for this sort of situation where Brazil will have the upper hand during attacks. Brazil followed their pattern of launching attacks from the left with Neymar, Coutinho and Marcelo combining well to find goal but Belgium's defence was compact.
Before Jesus was taken off the field and replaced by Douglas Costa, the striker was involved in a challenge with Kompany. Getting the ball inside the box, Jesus did well to nutmeg Jan Vertonghen, but was taken down by an advancing Kompany as the ball went out of play. The referee consulted with the VAR and decided against the penalty, but replays showed that there was contact from Kompany. Possibly, the reason behind not awarding the penalty was the fact that ball was heading out.
Brazil got a glimmer of hope in the 76th minute when Coutinho, Brazil's best player in Russia, delivered a perfect cross to substitute Renato Augusto, who made most use of the space given to him and headed the ball inside the net. Brazil in previous games had shown that perseverance is their hallmark. They were not going out of the World Cup without a fight.
Lot of things happened in the last 10 minutes. A lot of that had to do with Brazil trying their best to score the second goal but just not being able to do it. Costa on the right went for the glory on more than one occasion but they were only getting blocked. Augusto was guilty of squandering a golden chance when he hit the ball inches wide from the goal. Coutinho wasted another great opportunity from a position where he should have buried it while Courtois pulled off a save with his fingertips when Neymar went for the top-right corner of the goal.
In the end, Belgium endured everything that Brazil threw at them and emerged victorious. Belgium got their plans right and executed them to perfection. It's also because they have the players who can play to a plan. Players who have proven their calibre in top leagues and won competitions.
When the draws were made, this particular fixture was anticipated. The match could've been a fitting finale considering the talent both the sides boast of. For Brazil, the defeat might not be as humiliating as the 2014 semi-final loss to Germany, but surely this one might be more painful. This time around, they had a better squad, just that it was not their day against Belgium.
Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.
Updated Date: Jul 07, 2018 17:00:00 IST