Brazil and Belgium, the teams ranked second and third in the world, come face-to-face in the World Cup’s second quarterfinal. Here are five things to know about the match and a prediction of how it will finish.
At least judging on goals scored so far, the 12 goals the Red Devils have managed is more than any other team at the tournament. Striker Romelu Lukaku, the sixth most expensive player at the World Cup, has scored four of them and you wouldn’t bet against the Manchester United striker to add to his tally. In their Round of 16 3-2 comeback win against Japan, Belgium showed they can score different types of goals, with two headers getting them back on level terms.
Against Brazil, the potent attack will face one of the world’s best defences. The idea of Brazil playing carefree, samba-style soccer where they are happy to concede four as long as they score five, hasn’t been valid for a long time. They of course have plenty of attacking talent but the team is built around a defence that has kept 19 clean sheets in 25 matches. They have conceded just one World Cup goal so far.
All eyes are on Neymar
Aren’t they always? The Brazil forward has been the polarizing figure of this World Cup – brilliant one moment, ridiculous the next. Coming into the tournament on the back of a three-month injury layoff, he has had 24 shots in Russia, the most of any player, and has two goals to show for it. In the Round of 16 win against Mexico, he showed flashes of his best, scoring a well-crafted goal and assisting another.
With Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo out, the stage is Neymar’s but unfortunately his performances are often not only about skill. The Paris Saint-Germain player has invited ridicule (and plenty of memes) for his theatrics on several occasions after being fouled. Rolling over and over on the pitch is not how anyone wants to see Neymar. When Neymar is good he is one of the best – he shouldn’t let his incredible skill be overshadowed by silly play-acting.
Brazil must stop Kevin De Bruyne
And they must stop him without midfield enforcer Casemiro. The Real Madrid midfielder is suspended for the quarter-final clash after picking up two yellow cards. De Bruyne has yet to hit the dizzying heights in this tournament as he did during Manchester City’s title-winning season. The playmaker looked out of sorts for much of Belgium’s win over Japan. But when his team needed him most he burst into life – charging from his own penalty box and playing a perfect pass as Belgium hit a stoppage time winner.
With Casemiro out, Brazil will likely look to Fernandinho to stifle De Bruyne. The two are Manchester City teammates so will know all about each other, but that doesn’t mean Fernandinho can stop De Bruyne when he plays at his dazzling best. Occasionally prone to petulance, De Bruyne will have to keep his head if he wants to play in a potential semi-final. He is one of five Belgian players who would be suspended if they pick up a yellow card.
Belgium might be regretting topping their group
In their final Group G match, Belgium played England knowing the winner would top the group and go into the seemingly more difficult half of the knockout draw. Unsurprisingly, both teams made big changes to their sides and England, having already qualified before the match, didn’t seem too worried about losing 1-0, therefore finishing second and having an easier run to the final stages.
Had they lost to England, Belgium would have faced a path to the final without any previous winners. Now though, they play five-time winners Brazil and, if they advance, two-time winners Uruguay or 1998 champions France. England, on the other hand, are the only previous champion (1966) on their side of the draw.
The stars will be on show
In a tournament with its fair share of upsets, this is a match every neutral wants to see. Three of the tournament’s most expensive players will be on show, and each squad has at least one player from Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris St-Germain.
While Brazil clearly have a much larger population to draw players from, and a more illustrious soccer pedigree, Belgium’s first 11 can match any team in the world. Brazil are heavier tournament favorites now than before the World Cup began, but Belgium’s much-hyped golden generation have the chance of a lifetime. If they beat Brazil, they’ll believe they can be world champions.
This could easily go either way – so I’m going for a draw, 1-1, with Brazil to win on penalties.
This article first appeared in Forbes.Com