The FIFA World Cup 2018 has reached its quarterfinal stage and this edition of the tournament has been one of the most unpredictable ones in the history of world football. The global footballing extravaganza has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride, with major title contenders being knocked out by their opponents.
The teams have squared off against each other on four previous occasions, with Brazil winning thrice and Belgium winning only once. However this time things are a little different. Belgium’s Golden generation locks horns with the resurgent Brazil who have only gotten better since the start of the tournament.
Here are the five things one should look out for in the high-octane clash.
#1 Neymar vs Eden Hazard
Neymar Jr. is one of the finest players in world football right now and he has provided the Selecao with the cutting edge they need, in this World Cup.
He has been Brazil’s trump card by assuming the chief play-maker role and has gelled very well with his teammates, also scoring two goals so far. He deserves credit for working back to full fitness, after an injury in February drastically reduced his chances of playing in the World Cup. The Brazilian talisman would be looking to do the damage to Belgium.
Eden Hazard has been nothing short of magical in the tournament. He has bagged two goals and two assists, and he has been leading the Red Devil’s charge by delivering a Man of the Match display in each of his three matches so far.
The defence-splitting runs made by Hazard terrorizes defences and he has very much become the heartbeat of the Belgian team. His consistent performances and capability to change the game in the fraction of a second, make him a really dangerous player.
#2 Coutinho vs Kevin de Bruyne
Philippe Coutinho has been one of the standout players for the Brazilian team in this World Cup and has performed consistently for the Selecao in the World Cup. He is finally showing his class and capabilities on football’s grandest stage because of which Barcelona purchased him from Liverpool.
In four games at the World Cup, Coutinho has scored two goals and assisted once; having the same figures as Neymar. His capability to score curling goals from outside the box make him a really difficult player to contain. The Belgian defence would have to be in full swing in order to keep him silent throughout the match.
Kevin de Bruyne has not been as effective as his other Belgian teammates so far in the tournament. However, everyone is aware of his creative abilities and he could be the boatman that ferries Belgium through to the quarterfinals.
KDB had a wonderful club season with Manchester City and topped the assists chart with 16 assists in the season. He is one of the vital players in the Belgium line-up and if he sparks to life, he can cause mayhem against Brazil.
#3 The Attacking talent on display
The quarterfinal between Brazil and Belgium pits against each other, some of football’s most known superstars who can dispel magic with their performances.
The Brazilian attack and midfield line is clogged with players who can change the flow of the game in an instant. Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino are two very capable strikers upfront. They are flanked by Neymar on the left and Willian, who has been playing out of his skin, on the right.
The midfield consists of Coutinho and Paulinho as the attacking midfield options, while Casemiro and Fernandinho take up the pivot positions.
Belgium’s squad depth in attacking options often gives coach Roberto Martinez a headache to deal with. Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi are two reliable strikers upfront. Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens ply their trade as left and right wingers respectively.
In the engine room, they possess the indomitable de Bruyne and Axel Witsel, with the added services of Marouane Fellaini. Thorgan Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Adnan Januzaj are all very capable enough to cause the opposition some serious trouble. The experience of Dembele and Nacer Chadli also helps a lot.
#4 The defensive deadlock
There is no dearth of defenders in the Brazilian line-up, who can scare the lights out of opposition strikers.
The Brazilian wall of defence is one of the toughest to break down, as they have conceded only one goal so far in the tournament. It has veteran Thiago Silva and Miranda as the two centre-backs, with Marquinhos in the waiting line.
The left-back position is marshalled by Marcelo, whose return from injury will give Brazil a huge boost, and Filipe Luis. The right-back position is controlled by Fagner and Danilo Silva.
The Belgium defence is very flexible and has players who are versatile enough to play in any position. The back three consists of Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, with Thomas Vermaelen as a dependable substitute.
The left wing back position is alternated between Carrasco and Chadli, while Thomas Meunier has stamped his authority over the right-wingback position.
#5 Alisson vs Courtois
Alisson Becker has become a real household name in world football with his performances in the recent seasons. His outstanding performances with AS Roma made him an instant favourite for the No.1 position in the Brazilian lineup ahead of Manchester City’s Ederson.
The transfer of Wozniak Szczesny to Juventus came as a boon for the young goalkeeper and he quickly became the first-choice goalkeeper for Roma. Since then he has never looked back. He has already kept three clean-sheets in the WC and is in the running for the Golden Glove.
On the other hand, Thibaut Courtois’s career has always been on the upper curve. He rose to prominence with Atletico Madrid and has been Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper ever since he came back from loan in 2014.
However, his desire to perform better in every single game makes him a really reliable goalkeeper. His flexibility makes him so effective in saving shots and he is very good in one-on-one situations as well.
It would be interesting to see, who would come out on top. Brazil or Belgium.