In years to come, when this stadium is a crumbling white elephant, they will sit in almost empty stands, hear the wind whisper across the marsh that surrounds it and believe what they can hear is the ghosts of giants. In three games, Kazan has claimed the winners of 11 World Cups. First Germany went, insipid against South Korea. Then, in a full-blooded epic, Argentina were blown away by France. And then fell the biggest of them all, Brazil, outwitted and outbattled by Belgium, who will face France in Tuesday’s semi-final.
Brazil had chances. A few ricochets in the box did not fall their way.The hysteria that always surrounds them, the sense of desire and expectation, perhaps becomes at times inhibitive. Tite, almost certainly, will be blamed, because that is what coaches are for, but his half-time switch to a 4-4-2, bringing on Roberto Firmino in place of Willian and shifting Gabriel Jesus to the right, did improve matters. The problem was that by then they were already 2-0 down, having been eviscerated on the break by Kevin De Bruyne. Renato Augusto did pull one back, heading in Philippe Coutinho’s chip with 14 minutes remaining but it was not enough.
He may have been almost derided by the end of his time in the Premier League, but Roberto Martínez deserves enormous credit for Belgium’s victory. His approach was bold, startlingly so, setting out a team that looked like the sort of line-up you’d use to chase a game if you were a goal down with half an hour to go – as, of course they had been against Japan in the last round. Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli, heroes of that comeback, were included and the system was a surprising one: a 4-3-3 with De Bruyne deployed as a false nine and Romelu Lukaku pulling right, seemingly to try to attack the space between Miranda and Marcelo.