Neymar's poor performance could have repercussions with Real Madrid as Eden Hazard stars

Andy West 7/07/2018
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Belgium dumped Brazil out of the World Cup after a sensational first half performance in Kazan left the favourites with too much to do.

It was another thrilling night in a fabulously unpredictable World Cup, and Belgium will feel they fully deserved the victory despite Brazil’s determined second half fightback.

Let’s review three big talking points from the contest.

MARTINEZ DELIVERS MASTERCLASS 

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After habitually lining up his team in a 3-4-3 formation, Belgium boss Roberto Martinez surprised Brazil – and everyone else – by switching to a 4-3-3 shape on this occasion, moving Jan Vertonghen over to the left-back slot while Romelu Lukaku switched out to the right wing with Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine deep-lying striker.

However, there was also a great deal of flexibility with his team often reverting to a 3-4-3 when they came forward, as Thomas Meunier shuttled between the right-back and wing-back position and the front three enjoyed lots of freedom of movement.

The unusual plan worked to perfection, with the midfield duo of Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini helping to contain Brazil in the centre of the pitch while the back four did a brilliant job of dealing with any crosses that were thrown their way.

And the front three were magnificent, with Lukaku’s power, De Bruyne’s directness and Hazard’s trickery and pace causing all sorts of problems for Brazil as their movement and slick interplay dragged the opposition defence out of shape.

However, Martinez had to make changes late on as Brazil fought back in pursuit of a leveller, and his substitutions and a formation change to 5-3-2 helped shore things up, ensuring his team could finish what their coach’s boldness had started.

BRAZIL WIDE OPEN

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Having said all that, Brazil also played a big part in their own downfall by producing a shockingly open defensive performance in the first half, with the marauding front three of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku given all sorts of running room as the South American team’s midfield went missing in action.

First among the culpable parties was Fernandinho, who was drafted into the side to replace the suspended Casemiro but was a pale imitation of the Real Madrid man, failing to protect his back four by wandering out of position and getting caught too high up the pitch. Paulinho also had the kind of game his many detractors would expect, failing to offer much either with or without the ball and eventually being replaced.

Belgium’s second goal was the prime example of Brazil’s shortcomings, as Fernandinho allowed Lukaku to easily walk past him in a position where Casemiro would have made sure he took ball, man or both. Belgium were allowed to launch similar attacks far too often, and although Brazil gained a better shape in the second half – with Paulinho replaced by goalscorer Renato Augusto – by then the damage had already been done.

NEYMAR FLATTERS TO DECEIVE

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After generating so much praise and criticism during his team’s first four games, Neymar was expected to be at the centre of the action once again – but this time the mercurially gifted winger couldn’t play a leading role.

He was strangely out of sorts in the first half, apparently struggling with an injury which briefly forced him off the field for treatment.

And although he became much more of a factor after the break, he was still well below his usual standards of skill and penetration. He nearly played the hero role by sending a curling strike towards goal in stoppage time, but Thibaut Courtois produced a magnificent flying save to leave Neymar still chasing his World Cup dream.

And maybe there will be wider repercussions, because one man who was surely watching Neymar’s frustrations and Hazard’s electrifying night with particular interest was Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who could be in need of a new forward if a certain number seven leaves in the next few days…

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Man United's Romelu Lukaku thrives on the wing as Belgium shock Brazil

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Romelu Lukaku played out on the wing to devastating effect for Belgium.

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez sprung a surprise against Brazil in Friday’s World Cup quarter-final clash as he deployed striker Romelu Lukaku on the right wing, moving Kevin de Bruyne to a centre-forward’s role.

The move worked as Lukaku’s pace out wide was a threat throughout, and he assisted De Bruyne for a goal in a 2-1 win.

Here’s a closer look at the Belgium striker’s performance.

KEY STATS

Goals – 0

Shots – 0

Assists – 1

Dribbles – 2

Key Passes – 1

Aerials won – 1

30-SECOND REPORT

This was a game where Lukaku’s value was more in his presence, as a threat the Brazilian defence had to pay attention to while the players around him were running riot. Deployed on the right wing rather than centrally, he wasn’t at his best, but his pace and movement kept creating space for De Bruyne and Eden Hazard to exploit.

GOT RIGHT

Movement – As always, Lukaku’s movement was superb. Even though he was deployed in an unfamiliar position, he always got himself into dangerous positions. Indeed, his teammates should have found him more often.

Pace – One of the reasons Martinez occasionally puts Lukaku out on the wing is because of the Manchester United man’s searing pace. That speed was crucial to Belgium’s counterattacking style.

GOT WRONG

First touch – Lukaku’s first touch was at its infamous worst again, as on more than one occasion his inability to reel the ball in cost Belgium, bringing attacks to a premature end.

Passing – Other than the pass which set up De Bruyne’s goal, Lukaku’s distribution was often inaccurate. For someone whose link-up play is usually so strong, it was a disappointment.

VERDICT

This wasn’t quite vintage Lukaku – largely because he was played out of position. Adjusting to that in a game of this magnitude showed the Manchester United man’s growth as a player. His pace on the wing constantly pushed Brazil’s defence back, and just the mere threat of his presence terrorised the Selecao back line. This was a mature, well-rounded performance from a fast-developing player.

RATING – 8/10

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Best images as Belgium knock Brazil out to reach World Cup semis after Kevin de Bruyne show

Brazil were knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium on Friday, as the game at Kazan Arena ended 2-1 in favour of Roberto Martinez’s men.

An own goal from Fernandinho in the 13th minute, followed by a Kevin De Bruyne right-footed finish in the 31st minute, proved decisive as Tite’s side went crashing out of the tournament.

Renato Augusto did manage to get one back for the Brazilians, heading in aPhilippe Coutinho cross, but the five-time champions didn’t have time to find an equaliser as Belgium booked a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Belgium will now face France in the last-four, on July 10.

In the gallery above we take a look at some of the best images from the game.

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