Belgium are headed to a World Cup semifinal for the first time since 1986 after knocking off Brazil, a side which hadn’t lost a game — competitive or otherwise — in nearly 13 months, in Friday’s thrilling quarterfinal clash in Nizhny Novgorod.
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Fernandinho opened the scoring, into the wrong goal, in the 13th minute (WATCH HERE). Vincent Kompant, Fernandinho’s teammate at Manchester City, rose above the scrum to get his head to Nacer Chadli‘s corner kick, but didn’t make the cleanest of contact. The ball appeared headed across the six-yard box, until it made contact with the arm of Fernandinho and eluded a flailing Alisson in goal.
The 1-0 scoreline didn’t last long, as Belgium doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark. Romelu Lukaku picked the ball up inside his own half and surged forward, past a handful of defenders, before the ball was knocked away but fell to De Bruyne to Lukaku’s right. Three touches later, De Bruyne had the ball on his right foot with far too much sight of goal. The laser which ensued was un-savable (WATCH HERE).
For the ensuing 45 minutes, the Belgian defense appeared impermeable, thwarting anything and everything Brazil through at them. Even a pair of penalty-kick claims, from Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, fell on deaf ears.
Everything changed in the 76th minute, when Philippe Coutinho curled the perfect ball toward te penalty spot where Renato Augusto was waiting and anticipating. The Beijing Guoan midfielder applied every bit of contact and power he could muster with his head to beat Thibaut Courtois inside his left-hand post.
Fewer than five minutes later, it was Augusto who had Brazil’s first golden opportunity to draw the five-time world champions level, but he dragged his shot wide from just outside the box, letting the Belgian backline off the hook for a failed clearance.
Coutinho badly skewed Brazil’s next chance high and wide. Neymar beat his man to the endline and cut back inside before laying the ball back for the late-arriving Barcelona man, but Coutinho got his first-time effort all wrong and Belgium again went unpunished.
Once more, Brazil threatened in the 94th minute, but Courtois made a seemingly impossible save to tip Neymar’s curling shot just over the crossbar.
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Up next for Roberto Martinez’s side will be a highly anticipated semifinal matchup with their southern neighbors, France, the last remaining pre-tournament favorite still breathing.