Brazil hearts broken
Five-time champions out of the World Cup as Belgium pull off their biggest win ever to reach the semifinals
Belgium struck early and held off a late Brazil fightback to send the five-time champions tumbling out of the World Cup with a 2-1 victory in an end-to-end thriller on Friday that earned them a semifinal against France.
It was Belgium’s biggest ever win as they reached the semi-finals for the first time ever.
A Fernandinho own goal and a brilliant Kevin De Bruyne strike gave Belgium a spot in the last four for the second time after 1986 and sent Brazil home at the quarterfinal stage for the third time in the last four World Cups.
Brazil dominated possession and carved out chance after chance but could not score until substitute Renato Augusto headed home Philippe Coutinho’s cross 14 minutes from time.
Roared on by the vast majority of the crowd at the Kazan Arena, the Brazilians poured forward to try and save the game but Roberto Firmino, Augusto and Coutinho spurned gilt-edged opportunities to level the scores.
If Belgium’s first goal in the 13th minute had an element of luck, the ball going into the net off Fernandinho’s shoulder from a corner, the second in the 31st minute was a shining example of counter-attacking football.
Romelu Lukaku took the ball with his back to goal, turned into space and stormed past Fernandinho up the pitch before releasing De Bruyne on his right for the playmaker to rifle the ball into the net from the edge of the box.
De Bruyne, playing in a more advanced role than he had in Belgium’s previous four matches, was at the heart of his team’s best work, managing the transition from rearguard defence to attack with vision, pace and accuracy.
This was no repeat of Belo Horizonte four years ago, when Brazil were thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals on home soil, and Tite’s side kept their shape and composure.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said his side “deserve to be heroes” back home to set up a World Cup semifinal clash with France.
“They did incredible. There were amazing hearts out there. I didn’t think for one minute their hearts would give way,” said Martinez.
They did incredible. There were amazing hearts out there. I didn’t think for one minute their hearts would give way.Roberto Martinez, Belgium coach
“You have to accept that Brazil have so much quality and finesse, they break you down, but we did not accept it. Not for one minute were they (Belgium) going to give up.
“These boys deserve to be heroes in Belgium. The execution of tactics was magnificent.
“It is special and we can’t let the people of Belgium down. We can pass that down the generations – beating Brazil.”Belgium will face France in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ said: “This team wants to win every game.
“We wanted to beat England and maybe we chose the hardest path but we have confidence in our team.
“I think I’ve been unfairly criticised this year. Today I proved again why I am here. I’m happy with that.
[On the Neymar save] “I know he likes to put it that way so I saw it coming. I made a good save.”