By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Five-time champions Brazil were aiming for their sixth World Cup championship but their 2018 campaign came to a disappointing end as Belgium stunned the Seleção out of the 2018 Russia World Cup with a hard-fought 2-1 victory on Friday, July 6th.
Brazil entered today’s quarterfinals matchup as one of the clear favorites to hoist the 2018 World Cup trophy. Normally known for their prolific offense, the club’s stingy defense had racked up three successive clean sheets in the World Cup so far and allowed only six goals in 25 matches under head coach, Tite.
In front of over forty thousand fans at Kazan Arena, Brazil started the match in typical fashion, pressing high up the field looking to set the pace. But, despite several scoring chances in the first, the club could not find the back of the net. Thiago Silva had a seemingly wide open close range shot that barely bounced off the left post.
At the 12-minute mark, Belgium would draw first blood on their first set piece. Off Nacer Chadli’s corner, the ball deflected off of Fernandinho, playing for the suspended Casemiro, for an own goal giving Belgium the 1-0 lead.
Moments later, Belgium would double the lead with a rapid counterattack led by imposing forward Lukaku. Lukaku quickly darted into the heart of Brazil’s midfield and easily fed De Bruyne who launched a long-range laser past a diving Alisson for the 2-0 lead at the 31st minute.
Trailing for the first time in the World Cup, a focused Seleção came out in the second looking determined to get on the scoreboard. But, Belgium’s physical defense combined with highlight reel saves from keeper Courtois turned Brazil back time and again.
Finally at the 76th minute, the Seleção broke through. Coutinho lifted a cross into the area where Renato Augusto, who had just entered the game, glanced a soft header just past Courtois to make the game 2-1.
Brazil’s last chance to save their season came at the 94th minute, when the club’s star winger Neymar curled what looked to be the equalizer into the top corner. But, Courtois, using every inch of his 6’5″ frame, got just enough of Neymar’s shot to deflect it over the bar, saving the game for Belgium and sending Brazil home.
“I thought it was a great match and we had a lot of it, with plenty of possession and a lot of opportunities,” said a shellshocked Tite after the match. “But Belgium were more effective in converting their opportunities. They have a lot of top players and finished well.”
And despite Brazil’s finish in the 2018 World Cup falling well-short of expectations, the manager admitted he still appreciated what was, according to many, the match of the tournament so far.
“For all the pain I feel right now, if you like football, you have to watch this game. It’s going to give you pleasure…you can sit back and say ‘What a match!’ Anyone who appreciates football can see that this was a beautiful game.”
With the 2-1 win, Belgium now moves on to the World Cup semifinals where they will play France on Tuesday, July 10th.