Brazil 1-2 Belgium
The Grand Masters against the Golden Generation.
The second-best team in the world against the third-best, certainly according to the FIFA world rankings.
No wonder this fixture was one of the World Cup 2018 matches that had been most eagerly anticipated.
All us predictions suggested excitement and the atmosphere in the Kazan Arena tingled with anticipation.
That should be no surprise when you consider a list of the world’s 100 best footballers published by the Guardian newspaper last December included 10 Brazilians and seven Belgians.
Highlights of the game
From start to finish, the tempo never let up; and the drama quickly arrived.
It was as early as the seventh minute when Thiago Silva was left unmarked and scooped a header against the post – almost in slow motion – and that was the cue for an end-to-end contest.
Nacer Chadli fired wide after good work by Romelu Lukaku; Paulinho miscued with the goal at his mercy; Marouane Fellaini toe-poked a shot which was deflected wide.
From the resulting corner, Eden Hazard delivered into the danger zone, and the unfortunate Fernandinho saw the ball hit his shoulder and into his own net.
It was the 11th own goal at this tournament.
A side that had conceded just once in four games and had kept clean sheets in 19 of their 25 matches under head coach Tite had conceded inside 13 minutes.
Then nearly an instant leveller: Willian forced his Chelsea team-mate Thibaut Courtois to palm the ball away and Gabriel Jesus couldn’t connect properly from close range – a let-off for Belgium.
Still, the end-to-end continued. Lukaku and Chadli ran at the Brazilian defence and caused trouble. Marcelo tested Courtois, Silva flicked the ball away with Fellaini waiting to pounce before the Man Utd man crucially headed away in his own box.
It sparked a slick counter-attack to which Brazil had no answer.
Lukaku was unstoppable, not for the first time this World Cup, as he romped down the middle leaving Brazilian defenders in his wake before releasing Kevin De Bruyne to arrow a perfect shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Kevin de Bruyne made the difference in Brazil-Belgium match-up
It left Alisson with no chance, it was a picture-book counter-attack.
It was also a sensational start inside 31 minutes for a country which had failed to score a first-half goal in nine of their last 10 World Cup games.
As the attacking continued on both sides, there were probes, there were nutmegs, it was open, it was breathtaking.
Courtois spectacularly tipped a trademark Phillipe Coutinho shot around the post just before the half drew to a close.
It was 2-0, it could easily have been 4-4!
Brazil came out after the restart with the intention of a nation determined to reach the semi-final stage for the 12th time.
If they had been awarded a penalty, as they should have been 11 minutes after the restart, World Cup 2018 odds on the five-time champions of the world would have increased dramatically.
There was no doubt Kompany fouled Jesus, even if the ball was going out of play.
But no spot kick was awarded and a second dramatic fightback in five days – Belgium’s comeback against Japan saw them become the first side to win a World Cup game from 2-0 down for 48 years – remained an uphill task.
Brazil pegged Belgium back, yet the Europeans remain disciplined and with Neymar’s theatrics clearly not impressing the excellent referee Milorad Mazic. It was easy to see why so many neutrals were actually cheering on Belgium rather than the perennial World Cup favourites.
Then came the glimpse the Selecao needed.
Moments after lively substitute Douglas Costa – whose introduction pepped them up – had forced a good save from Courtois, another arrival reduced the arrears.
Coutinho produced a perfectly weighted delivery, and Renato Augusto expertly directed a header beyond the impressive goalkeeper.
It was all Brazil. Coutinho went close, Augusto was inches wide from a dramatic equaliser, Neymar even closer only to be denied by a fantastic save from Courtois.
Perhaps after his antics throughout the tournament, justice had been done.
To a man, Belgium were terrific.
Roberto Martinez’s side are now unbeaten in their last 24 matches (won 18, drawn five).
They are in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1986.
Belgium have now won six successive World Cup matches for the first time. They have won nine of their last 10 matches at the tournament.
There will now be an all-European semi-final line-up for the first time at a World Cup since 2006.
Brazil’s last win against European opposition in the knockout stage came in the 2002 World Cup Final against versus Germany.
This was the fifth meeting between these nations. The first encounter was a friendly in Brussels in 1963 which Belgium won 5-1 but Brazil had won the subsequent three meetings, including at the 2002 World Cup when Brazil won 2-0 on their way to winning the tournament.
The next instalment of World Cup 2018 news will see a potentially cracking semi-final between Belgium and France in Saint Petersburg.
Brazil head home with Neymar delivering a reputation for blatant diving.
Neymar trying to win a penalty for Brazil against Belgium
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