FIFA World Cup 2018: 5 reasons why Belgium beat Brazil

Final score: Brazil 1-2 Belgium

The golden generation of Belgium continued its impeccable winning run by upstaging champions elect Brazil to grab a semi-final spot. An own goal by Fernandinho followed by a stunner from the genius of Kevin De Bruyne meant that Brazil already had one foot out of the door. Although Renato Augusto reduced the deficit through a 76th minute goal, the Red Devils held on to reach their second-ever World Cup semi-finals, where France lay in wait.

The match began at a frenetic pace, with both sides not shying away from committing bodies forward. The Belgian back three was hardly troubled by their opposition in the first period of the game, as Neymar and co. launched efforts from distance. Thiago Silva hit the post from close range when the ball fell kindly to him during a corner. With that, he spurned one of the easiest chances of the game.

Belgium’s counter-attacking pace stretched and confused Brazil’s rather solid back line. In the second-half, they applied the defensive shift, which worked in their favour. Despite facing 27 shots on goal, the defence held on to complete one of their biggest World Cup wins. Seleção’s second-half onslaught was battered by a lack of killer’s instinct in front of goal, superb last-ditch defending by Belgium and a spectacular show of goal-keeping from Thibaut Courtois.

Second half shots…

Brazil: 1️⃣5️⃣
Belgium: 1️⃣#BRABEL #WorldCup

— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) July 6, 2018

Here are 5 reasons why Belgium beat Brazil 2-1:

#5 The right team changes by Martinez

Despite winning all their matches and scoring the most goals in the tournament, Roberto Martinez’s tactics were being questioned and criticised. The forwards weren’t allotted with the right positions and Yannick Carrasco was having a tough time defending the left side of the pitch.

Due to the above, the Red Devils’ backline was opened up and exploited by a spirited Japanese side. Also to mention, they didn’t quite convince while going forward in the first-halves of their encounters with Japan and Panama.

This time around, the former Everton boss installed and revitalized the squad with a different strategy, which clearly worked in their favour. The omission of Yannick Carrasco meant that Jan Vertonghen would have lesser work to do in defence, especially when Axel Witsel would roam about freely to defend. Nacer Chadli, who scored the winner a few days back, put up a fine show at left wing-back, sticking to his positions and providing a sharper cutting edge while attacking.

Next, Dries Mertens’ inconsistent form saw him replaced by Marouane Fellaini, who took charge of De Bruyne’s position. Through him, Martinez infused aerial threat, physicality and a safe passing option in midfield. Undoubtedly, the Manchester United midfielder rose to the occasion.


#4 Thriving on the aerial advantage

Right from the start of this edition of the World Cup, Belgium showed that they can be one of the deadliest counter-attacking sides.

Their game plan turned out to be a masterclass, as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Thomas Meunier supplied crosses in plenty whenever they looked to disturb the Brazilian defence. Now, who were the receivers? A bracket of heavy-weights including Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini attacked the box. Thiago Silva and Miranda definitely didn’t have answers to the presence of these six-footed giants, who combine strength and movement in the box to threaten Alisson.

Brazil’s frailties at the back were largely exposed when a delivery came into the box, be it in open play or dead ball situations.


#3 Kevin De Bruyne’s advanced role

From the start of the tournament, Kevin De Bruyne never looked to be at his technical best. Apart from a couple of moments where he picked the best of passes, something seemed to be lacking from the Manchester City midfielder’s game.

The fact that he was involved in too much defensive work was the reason for this cause. Meunier and Carrasco would often leave large spaces down the wings and De Bruyne, who is more than capable of defending, would have to tidy up.

In this quarterfinal game, Martinez tasked him with an advanced role down the right, where he replaced Mertens. De Bruyne added a sense of decisiveness to the game. This factor was highlighted when he netted his fantastic goal. When he picked the pass from Lukaku, he had just one thing on his mind. His dribbling and ball-carrying capability injected a sense of urgency into the way the Belgians attacked. Also to add, the former Chelsea midfielder’s link up play with Hazard and Lukaku was praise worthy.

When Eden Hazard’s pace and creativity combines with Kevin De Bruyne’s dynamism and vision, you know the opposition is in trouble.


#2 A formidable defensive sheath of Fellaini and Witsel

The defensive midfield duo of Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini worked wonders for the Red Devils at the back.

Firstly, let’s acknowledge their safe passing and ball-playing display, which certainly helped Eden Hazard and his troops while getting forward. They shielded the ball, held on to it well and ensured no nonsense in midfield.

Now, would one fancy a Gabriel Jesus, Firmino or a Paulinho to beat Alderweireld, Kompany and Vertonghen in the air? 9 out of 10 times, the answer is expected to be a ‘no.’ Here’s where Belgium’s tactics were plotted to near perfection.

While defending deep, they invited crosses from Coutinho, Neymar and Costa, blocking the central area and disallowing them from cutting inside. They knew full well that all three of them love to cut infield and create openings and thus, Martinez screened the edge of the box with Witsel and Fellaini – ready to tackle, block or deny spaces in the middle.


#1 Thibaut Courtois displaying his class

“Big players always step up on the biggest of occasions,” they said. Well said!

Thibaut Courtois has racked up a couple of clean sheets in this tournament. So far, he was either undisturbed between the sticks, or he would have no chance of saving a shot.

But on this occasion, he notched up an array of remarkable saves, each one better than the other. Belgium’s last line of defence was totally sorted due to his presence. He parried a Marcelo strike in the first-half, following it up with a double save off Neymar’s and Marcelo’s efforts. He then thwarted away a Douglas Costa shot diving in full stretch. He was then at full stretch to deny Coutinho from distance.

Last but not the least, a match-winning stop in the 94th minute proved how imperious he was in goal. Neymar found space on the edge of the box and beautifully curled one destined to meet the top corner of the goal, only to be denied by the fingertips of the 6’6’’ Chelsea goalkeeper at full stretch.

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