South America’s World Cup representatives said goodbye to the tournament for another four years yesterday, as both Brazil and Uruguay were beaten by European rivals in crunch quarter-finals.
A superb first half display by Belgium ended Brazil’s hopes of a record sixth World Cup crown last night, as a Fernandinho own goal and a superb Kevin De Bruyne strike proved enough to win 2-1 and seal a semi-final spot.
Although Brazil roared back in the second half with a headed goal from Renato Augusto, it is the Belgians who will face France in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.
Unbeaten in their last 15 games, Brazil’s bid for a second consecutive place in the semifinals looked in safe hands. But after an energetic start that saw Thiago Silva come close and Neymar show early promise, Brazil heads went down following Fernandinho’s own goal before De Bruyne’s superb strike from distance put the Red Devils in control on 31 minutes.
Late changes by Brazil coach Tite paid off as Renato Augusto’s superb header 14 minutes from time dragged the South Americans back into contention.
But as Belgian legs tired, Brazil spurned several great chances to push the match into extratime, Augusto drilling inches wide and Coutinho skewing his effort off target from Neymar’s pass.
Thibaut Courtois then produced a great save in the dying minutes, tipping over a curling drive from Neymar as the Belgians ensured they will make just their second visit to the last four, 32 years after their surge to semis in Mexico.
Tite had replaced suspended holding midfielder Casemiro with Fernandinho in his starting line-up, handing the Manchester City player his first World Cup start since he was hauled off at half-time on Brazil’s way to the humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014.
Fernandinho’s World Cup woes continued though, Hazard’s corner coming off the midfielder’s arm to glide past Alisson and into the net as he rose to block. Brazil almost equalised immediately, Neymar dribbling down the left and finding Gabriel, only for his effort to go amiss.
But Belgium’s early opener showed the Red Devils were oozing confidence, Hazard and De Bruyne linking incisively to carve open the Seleção’s welloiled defence with surprising ease.
Tite replaced the ineffective Willian with Roberto Firmino at half-time and soon after swapped Gabriel Jesus for Douglas Costa. But it took the arrival of China-based Augusto 17 minutes from time that sparked Brazil into life.
Brazil saw two penalty claims in quick succession waved away by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic after Neymar tumbled following contact with Fellaini and Gabriel went to ground after a challenge from Vincent Kompany.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said his side “deserve to be heroes” back home after downing the five-time champions.
“They did incredible. There were amazing hearts out there. I didn’t think for one minute their hearts would give way,” said Martinez. “These boys deserve to be heroes in Belgium. The execution of the tactics was magnificent.”
URUGUAY SECOND BEST
A disappointed Óscar Tabárez conceded that his Uruguay side were second best in their World Cup quarter-final loss to France earlier in the day, which saw the European side progress to the last four.
The veteran coach, who has been in charge of Uruguay for 12 years in his second spell as national coach, also refused to comment on his future.
“We don’t play as good as our rivals, that’s why we lost,” said a downbeat Tabárez after the 2-0 defeat.
France went through after goals from Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann, after a horrific mistake by goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, secured victory.
“The boys really gave everything, but France were able to control the match very well,” added Tabárez.