Kevin De Bruyne’s stunning strike booked Belgium’s place in the World Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 win over Brazil.
A first-half double, courtesy of a Fernandinho own-goal (13) and a rasping De Bruyne (31) finish, gave Belgium a big enough cushion in order to repel a Brazilian onslaught in the second period.
Renato Augusto (76) set up a grandstand finish but Belgium, spearheaded by Eden Hazard and a fantastic performance by Thibaut Courtois, held on to make the last four, which means a European team will be winning this year’s tournament.
Roberto Martinez had been criticised for deploying De Bruyne too deep in previous encounters, but pushed him higher up the pitch against Brazil. His positioning just behind Hazard and Romelu Lukaku – who ran riot in the opening stages – was the catalyst for Belgium’s fast start.
However, the story of the match could have been different had Thiago Silva not bundled an effort against the post on nine minutes and Paulinho not fired wide from Willian’s corner two minutes later.
Brazil: Alisson (6), Fagner (5), Silva (6), Miranda (6), Marcelo (7), Paulinho (5), Fernandinho (4), Willian (6), Coutinho (7), Neymar (5), Jesus (5).
Subs: Costa (8), Augusto (7), Firmino (7)
Belgium : Courtois (8), Meunier (7), Alderweireld (7), Kompany (7), Vertonghen (7), Chadli (6), Witsel (6), Fellaini (7), De Bruyne (8), Hazard (9), Lukaku (8)
Subs: Vermaelen (N/A), Tielemans (N/A)
Man of the match: Eden Hazard
Belgium were given a helping hand to grab the lead on 13 minutes. Nacer Chadli’s corner from the left was clumsily flicked into his own net by Fernandinho, who was under pressure from Vincent Kompany.
The opening goal was lucky, the second was sheer quality.
Two changes were made by both teams. Marcelo came in for Filipe Luis for Brazil, while Fernandinho replaced Casemiro. For Belgium, Yannick Carrasco came out for Nacer Chadli, while Marouane Fellaini replaces Dries Mertens.
Lukaku drove at the heart of the Belgium defence which caused chaos in the Brazilian backline. He offloaded the ball to De Bruyne on the right who was strangely invited onto his right foot by a lacklustre Marcelo. The Manchester City star took a touch and fired straight into the far corner.
Brazil went for broke in the second half which left huge space for Hazard and Lukaku to exploit.
Substitute Roberto Firmino almost flicked home a Marcelo cross while Gabriel Jesus had a penalty claim turned down by VAR after Kompany went to ground inside the area.
Brazil’s goal did eventually come after a spell of prolonged pressure with 14 minutes to go. Augusto’s run into the box was not tracked and Philippe Coutinho picked him out with a stunning clipped pass that was headed home by the Beijing Guoan midfielder.
Neymar failed to light up the game but he did burst in behind with eight minutes left before cutting the ball box inside the penalty area, but Coutinho’s effort from 12 yards was wayward.
There was one last chance for Neymar for take it to extra-time but Courtois produced a sensational one-handed save to flick a 20-yard curling effort over the crossbar.
Man of the match – Eden Hazard
This stage was made for Hazard, who was at the heart of all of Belgium’s forays into Brazilian territory. His close control dazzled and the way he glided past players on the counter attack was a joy to behold. Martinez’s decision to play him off the left-wing was a tactical masterstroke.
- Belgium have reached the World Cup semi-finals for only the second time, losing out to eventual winners Argentina in 1986.
- Brazil have now been eliminated by European sides in each of the last four editions of the World Cup (France 2006, Netherlands 2010, Germany 2014 and Belgium 2018).
- This was the first time in 30 matches in all competitions that Brazil had conceded more than once in a game, since a 2-2 draw with Paraguay in March 2016.
- Belgium are now unbeaten in 24 games in all competitions (W19 D5).
- De Bruyne became the 100th different player to score at the 2018 World Cup (excluding own goals).
- Fernandinho became only the second player to score a World Cup own goal with Brazil, after Marcelo vs Croatia in 2014.