Brazil will face Belgium in the quarter-final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after beating Mexico and Japan in their respective round-of-16 matches on Monday.
The two teams will meet at the Kazan Arena on Friday after producing five goals during the first knockout phase. Brazil played within themselves, but still had enough to see off Mexico 2-0, with Neymar in good form as he scored one and assisted the other.
Later, Belgium edged past Japan in a 3-2 thriller thanks to substitute Nacer Chadli, who netted the last-minute winner to complete his country’s comeback from 2-0 down.
- Brazil vs. Belgium, Friday, July 6: 9 p.m. local time (7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ET)
Win or Lose, Focus Will Again be on Neymar
It’s been an eventful tournament so far for Neymar, who has produced moments of brilliance but still been no stranger to controversy. The pattern continued against Mexico, with plenty of El Tri supporters willing to mock the forward’s willingness to go to ground:
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio was even stronger in his condemnation of Neymar’s perceived antics, calling them “not a good example for soccer, and for the world of soccer, for all the kids playing. This should be a sport of ability, of determination, a game of men, not of so much clowning,” per Telemundo Deportes (h/t Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports).
Perhaps irked by his critics, Neymar offered no sympathy to Osorio and his players:
In many ways, Neymar’s showing against Mexico was similar to his performance during a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in Group E. He scored and conjured some moments of deft skill, but was also booked for dissent, accused of diving and saw a penalty overturned by the video assistant referee.
Despite the negativity surrounding his on-field behaviour, Neymar has still been delivering the goods for Brazil:
Whether good or bad, Neymar will again be the main focus, this time over Belgium’s big names, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
Belgium Will Score in a Losing Effort
The presence of Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne means Belgium are likely to score, even against a Brazil defence breached just once during four matches in Russia.
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Yet the Red Devils should fear no backline after hitting 12 goals in four games. The latest three broke Japan hearts while also showcasing the strength in depth of coach Roberto Martinez’s squad.
Although Martinez eventually changed things for the better, the gaps in Belgium’s defence were obvious. They can be exploited by a versatile forward line led ably by Neymar, who is impressively supported by Willian and Philippe Coutinho.
This group can exploit a team vulnerable in wide areas and lacking a true ball-winner at the base of midfield.
Brazil will be without the best midfield enforcer in the competition after Real Madrid holding player Casemiro was booked against Mexico, per Jim White of The Telegraph.
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The 26-year-old’s suspension will leave the Selecao just vulnerable enough to allow Belgium to get on the scoresheet, before Neymar and Co. settle the tie late on.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Belgium