If asked before the kick-off of any FIFA World Cup to predict which team will score the most goals, many people would choose Brazil. After all, A Seleção are traditionally known for their flair for the spectacular, their thirst for goals and their ‘Joga Bonito’. Yet, at Russia 2018, the South Americans’ current total of seven goals puts them fifth in the scoring charts, five behind the top team, Belgium.
Indeed, the Red Devils’ return of 12 goals for and just four against is almost more Brazilian-like. As it is though, Brazil’s defensive marshal, Thiago Silva, has helped his side go 310 minutes without conceding, forming the meanest backline at these world finals, with just a solitary goal against so far. Only rarely have Brazil found the balance between controlled attacking and disciplined defending quite as well as they have so far in Russia.
By way of contrast, the Belgians have proven to be vulnerable at the back. Nevertheless, with players like Romelu Lukaku – who sits second in scoring at this World Cup with four goals – and Eden Hazard, they have also shown themselves to be capable of scoring or creating something at any given moment. It is not for nothing that they are labelled the country’s golden generation.
Can they get the better of the five-time world champions in Kazan and move into the last four? Doing so would mean Belgium winning a fifth consecutive World Cup match, which would set a new national record. The first and only time the sides previously met at the global showpiece was in the last 16 in 2002 when goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldo earned victory for a Brazil team that would go on to lift the title. That is a result that current playmakers Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, who have each been directly involved in three goals already, would no doubt be more than happy to emulate.
This well-balanced Brazil side know they are in for a battle and are prepared for it. The absence of Casemiro is a big blow, but his replacement Fernandinho is likewise a complete midfielder, even if he is not as physically imposing and has a huge task ahead of him against Belgium. The Red Devils will have to contend with the in-form Neymar, who sparkled against Mexico and is arguably the best player remaining at the tournament.
The last match was a tough one and coach Roberto Martinez will likely have learned some lessons from his side’s difficulties in that Round of 16 outing. Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli, who both came on as substitutes in that game against Japan, could be in line for starts, which would necessitate some minor tactical adjustments. This quarter-final represents one of the last chances for Belgium to shine at the highest level, with the best team in the their history. It is worth noting that this will be the first time that Belgium face Brazil, truly believing they can win.