- It’s cliche to say, but between Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Neymar, Coutinho, Willian and Gabriel Jesus, this quarterfinals matchup between Brazil and Belgium has the most attacking talent outside of France and is worthy of the World Cup final.
- Important individual matchups abound throughout the pitch: Fernandinho vs. de Bruyne, Hazard vs. Fagner, Coutinho vs. Fellaini, Neymar vs. Thomas Meunier. Left wing, right wing, through the middle - both sides can create goals anywhere on the field.
- While losing Casemiro to yellow card accumulation is a significant blow to Brazil’s organization, Fernandinho is as good a backup as any at the base of midfield.
- Neymar’s diving is having a moment. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio called Neymar’s antics “shameful” and wondered how it would influence youth players. On cue, this Swiss youth side went viral by practicing diving. An acting teacher at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts compared his antics to a “beginning actor” that oversells an event.
- Tite’s calm is the perfect antidote through the controversy. The Brazil manager continues to take the focus off Neymar by emphasizing the virtue of the collective.
- Is Roberto Martinez slowly earning respect amongst his detractors after his performance down 2-0 against Japan? He’s moved his side away from the three defender backline into a 4-3-3 for the first time all tournament, with Jan Vertonghen moving to left back and Meunier slotting in on the right. This was a significant change as it clearly gives Meunier the responsibility to track Neymar 1 v 1 on the wing as opposed to giving Neymar space between the right centerback and right wingback in a three defender backline.
- But then again, it may be Martinez out-thinking himself.
- With Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in the starting 11, it will be interesting to see what moves Martinez has up his sleeve as Fellaini especially was an obvious sub late in matches. Not only does Fellaini’s inclusion moves de Bruyne further up the field where he’s at his most dangerous, it relieves the playmaker of defensive obligation in either tracking Paulinho’s late runs or Coutinho’s long range efforts in front of Belgium’s backline.
- Capitalizing on crosses and longballs will be much more difficult for Belgium with Joao Miranda and Thiago Silva’s aerial dominance.
- The match began with chances and end to end action from both sides, with the first breath coming at sometime around the 18th minute mark.
- Own goal aside, Fernandinho looks significantly off the pace with Hazard and de Bruyne finding space in front of Brazil’s defense on counter attacks.
- Lukaku and Meunier played two significant roles for Belgium in the first half. As for Lukaku, it’s not just his hold up ability, but his how he turns an outlet into a counter attacking threat with his pace (a counter attacking target man?). And Meunier is doing his best in marking Neymar while still providing a wide outlet during Belgium attacks.
- Perhaps it made sense to keep de Bruyne further at base against bunkering opponents in the group stage rounds, but de Bruyne can play further up with Fellaini and Axel Witsel at the base of midfield in wide open matches.
- Hit in a similar area and at pace, de Bruyne’s goal was reminiscent of his strike against Chelsea earlier this season. Each goal demonstrates his acceleration and technical quality at pace in significant moments. But the star of Belgium’s second goal was Lukaku not only relieving the pressure off Belgium’s attack, but dribbling some forty yards and finding de Bruyne while getting fouled in the process.
- Back to de Bruyne, his counterpart Coutinho has struggled to provide the same drive up to the middle for Brazil. This is forcing Neymar to take the playmaking load.
- After Alderweireld got a yellow card for a tactical foul, Taylor Twellman observed that Fernandinho should have taken a yellow by stopping Lukaku’s counter for Belgium’s second goal. Although one could mistake Fernandinho and Casemiro as similar players with similar roles in front of midfield, this match especially shows how disciplined Casemiro is in his positioning and using his physicality to stop opposition counter attacks.
- The intensity and drive through the middle from subs Renato Augusto and Douglas Costa changed the match. We wondered how Tite would react down 2-0 as this is the first time he’s been tested on the international stage. The renewed speed and threat from the middle has allowed Neymar more space on the left side.
- Belgium were not prepared for Augusto’s runs judging by the space he found between Vincent Kompany and Vertonghen for his goal.
- With Brazil taking the momentum and Augusto almost equalizing with another run down the middle, what would Martinez do now? Similar to his Japan subs, he reinforced Belgium’s solidity up the middle in subbing on Thomas Vermaelen and Youri Tielemans.
- Outside of Neymar occasionally touching the endline, Belgium defensively set up for Thibaut Courtois to have a big match by conceding long shots and focusing on shutting off space inside the box. Brazil took 27 shots during the match with Courtois saving nine, including this curler from Neymar during injury time.
- One could make a compilation of just Hazard creating space and relieving pressure by turning Brazil defenders in the middle of the field. Again, this may have been different with Casemiro sweeping up midfield.
- Meunier missing the match against France is significant as he shored up a wingback position previously seen as a weakness.
- Through formational and tactical changes, Martinez stated afterwards that Belgium’s “heart and belief” saw them through as Brazil mounted their comeback. One would add individual quality as well, through Lukaku’s hold up play, Hazard’s turns, de Bruyne’s perfectly placed strike and Courtois’ last minute save.
- The semifinal match between Belgium and France has the feel of a World Cup final.
A World Cup Abstract: Belgium 2, Brazil 1