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Brazil Crash out of the World Cup as Belgium Show the Value of Teamwork

Brazil have been bullied out of the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup.

Brazil Crash out of the World Cup as Belgium Show the Value of Teamwork

Before the quarter-final match between Brazil and Belgium started, the Kazan Stadium had already claimed two erstwhile champions. Both Germany and Argentina had come here with hopes of rescuing an almost doomed campaign and both had failed. On the contrary, Brazil marched into the ring knowing that the cup was there’s to lose. They seemed imperious. Tite’s well-drilled device ready to waltz their way to the semi-finals. The Red Devils, however, offered such dissonant tunes that it was impossible for the canary maestros to indulge in any sort of Samba magic that is most expected whenever 11 Brazilians take the field to play a game of football.


Brazil have been bullied out of the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup. No matter how absurd the preceding sentence seems, Belgium scored twice within the first half and though Augusto scored one towards the end, the match somehow had an element of fate about it. Belgium were never going to lose this. This was a performance of immense power but also one of immense humility.


Belgium’s campaign and much of Martinez’s tenure as the Belgian manager has been plagued by a tactical question. Why does Martinez continue with playing only one defensive midfielder in Witsel, a decision which forces De Bruyne to play deeper where he is surely not as effective as when he is playing for Manchester City? In City, he is a power-presence. There he marauds in the space between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines. With only Witsel as protection, and Belgium’s full-backs constantly playing high up the field, De Bruyne’s influence in the tournament has been subdued if not minimal. Against Brazil Martinez pulled up one of the greatest tactical moments of his career so far.


When Martinez was managing Lukaku in Everton, he would at times against stronger oppositions deploy him in the right wing position and Naismith as a false-nine. The highlight of this experiment came in 2014 when Everton destroyed Arsenal 3-0. Brazil are not Arsenal and they were not destroyed. They were effectively out-punched.


Here too Martinez did something similar but also something more. He deployed Lukaku again in the right wing here. Hazard in a free role was handed the duty of conducting from the left. Against the Mexicans, the Brazilians for the first twenty minutes were constantly pinged back on the right channel. The reason remains the ineffectiveness of Fagner, the right-back who replaces the injured Danilo. And so, as feared after a torrid opening spell where Brazil should have ended up 2-0, suddenly in the 13th minute found themselves behind after Hazard’s corner from the right side went into the net after brushing against Fernandinho’s shoulders. Fernandinho, who had replaced the suspended Casemiro surely did not know what was about to come from that point. Brazil were behind for the first time in 392 days.


Filipe Luis who started against the Mexicans is a fairly sound defensive presence. But Martinez knew Tite would play a fit Marcelo. Marcelo is without a doubt one of the greatest contemporary fullbacks, albeit with a flaw. He at times confuses his role with that of the winger. Enter Lukaku. With Belgium’s Meunier asked to be more defensive and check Neymar at all times, Lukaku tormented Brazil’s left hand side. He constantly found acres of space behind Marcelo and as soon as Brazil would lose control of the ball in Belgium’s box, they would launch deadly counter-attacks on the break. The front three of Hazard, Lukaku, and De Bruyne would immediately spread the pitch and the Brazilians would have to rush back. The most efficient example of this pattern came into the 30th minute. Belgium won the ball in their half after another harried Brazilian attack. Lukaku received the ball on his chest and was covered by Fernandinho.


If the own goal was nightmarish, what happened next surely must be what hell is made of. The Devil in front of him simply shrugged Fernandinho’s presence off and started the run of his career. Like a tank on full fuel, Lukaku blitzkrieged his way past the Brazilian midfield before Paulinho belatedly tried to foul him. It was too late as by that time Lukaku had passed the ball to De Bruyne who spanked the ball beyond the stretched hands of Alisson and into the net. Brazil were 2-0 down before half time.



Which brings us to the unspectacular but second aspect of Martinez’s masterpiece. He introduced Chadli in place of the high flying Carrasco and Fellaini in place of Mertens. Fellaini is perceived as a chaotic anti-footballing force. A disruptor without the elegance or effectiveness of Kante. But Fellaini immediately showed the world why he is trusted by so many managers, when in the 5th minute he fouled Coutinho. Fellaini’s presence on the pitch meant the Brazilian midfield could not get into any rhythm. More importantly, a midfield protected by both Witsel and Fellaini allowed De Bruyne to bombard forward without any worry. With Chadli on the left restricting Willian, Hazard had the time and space to torment Fagner endlessly.


Brazil, it has to be mentioned did not play badly. They could have easily went 2-0 up within the first 10 minutes. Thiago Silva even hit the post once. Tite, will be blamed for the defeat but it has to be seen that it was Tite’s substitutions in the second half which offered the Brazilians with a hope of escaping the misery. Douglas Costa playing where Willian was previously stationed tore through the Belgians at will. Augusto could have become a legend today if he had converted at least one of the two clear chances he had of scoring. It was not meant to be.


Belgium has been touted as one of the contenders for the cup. This is their golden generation. On paper, they are coveted as much as the Selecao. Here however they showed necessary humility. How many times do one hear a big team adapting to play against another major heavyweight? Both Henry and Martinez had mentioned in press conferences that there may be a scenario whereby they would face Brazil and they have a plan for that. The Belgians here conceded pride but brought back glory in exchange. Lukaku epitomised that spirit today.