Kazan, July 5: Dubbed as a ‘golden generation’, a talented Belgium squad will be keen to re-create history while perennial title contenders Brazil will aim to avoid yet another upset when the two teams meet in the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup here on Friday.
The best result that Belgium have achieved in their World Cup history is reaching the semi-finals in 1986, when they eventually finished fourth.
Achieving that feat for a second time will surely be on the minds of every Belgium player when they take the field at the Kazan Arena.
If Belgium manage to win on Friday, they will set a new mark of five consecutive victories at the World Cup, beating the previous run of four matches. They have qualified for six consecutive World Cups, but have never progressed beyond the second round during this period.
With stars like Eden Hazard and Adnan Januzaj on the wings, the experienced Vincent Kompany at the centre of their defence, Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City and Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United along side Adnan Januzaj and Axel Witsel in midfield and the physical presence of Romelu Lukaku upfront, the Belgium squad have the ability to upset any team on their day.
The Belgians dominated their group, finishing at the top of the pile by winning their three matches. They were impressive against the likes of England, Tunisia and Panama, scoring nine goals while conceding twice.
But they were stretched to the limit by spirited and disciplined Japan in the second round before Nacer Chadli finished off a lighting quick, superbly crafted counter-attack in second half stoppage time to send Belgium through.
Their defence did relatively okay against Japan, but has a tendency to be caught on the counter, which allowed the Asian powerhouse to score their first goal.
The introduction of Fellaini and Chadli in the 65th minute turned things around for Belgium as both substitutes found the net.
But against Brazil, the Belgians will have to do much better. Defence is one of the strong points of the the current Brazil side, who have conceded just once in their four matches.
Their defence has been so water tight that they have allowed their opponents a mere five goal attempts on target in these four matches — a jaw dropping feat.
Under their current coach Tite, Brazil have played 25 international matches, during which they have conceded just six goals.
“Our defence begins in attack. We try to help out as much as we can in that respect. Football’s getting tougher and tougher all the time. It’s more competitive, as we’re seeing at this World Cup, and we have to do our bit. But we do play exciting football,” Brazil midfielder Willian was quoted as saying by FIFA.com.
Announcing that Marcelo will return to the left-back position against Belgium, Tite said that Brazil will bank on team work and the individual skills of their formidable forwardline, which includes Paris Saint-Germain super star Neymar.
“It will be a great match. Both teams excel with a beautiful football. Belgium have great players and a great coach as well. I’ve always put them in the group of favourites (for the title). It’s the same now,” Tite said on the eve of the match.
“In the last third of the pitch, we are very strong individually and very skilful. That’s what I tell them all the time: the coach works to get them well organised off the ball and in the build-up. But when we get to the last third it’s time for them to use their creativity,” he added.
The last time the two teams met was in 2002, when Brazil clinched a 2-0 victory enroute to lifting their fifth World Cup title. The current generation of Brazil stars will no doubt be hoping for a similar outcome this time as well. IAN