More rough stuff for Neymar and other talking points as Brazil face Belgium

Andy West 17:58 04/07/2018
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Brazil and Belgium will meet in a mouth-watering World Cup quarter-final on Friday night, with some of the game’s finest attacking talent going head to head as Neymar and Philippe Coutinho square off against Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.

Brazil have eased impressively through the tournament so far, but they will face their biggest test yet against a Belgian side buoyed by a spectacular comeback in the 3-2 victory over Japan in the last sixteen.

Here are three big storylines to look out for in this potentially classic showdown.

Belgium switch to back four?

Roberto Martinez has lined up his Belgium team in a 3-5-2 formation so far, employing Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier as wing-backs in an attack-minded approach.

But employing that strategy against Brazil’s richly gifted front three would be a big risk, with Neymar in particular surely rubbing his hands at the prospect of taking on a defence lacking a full-back to track his runs inside from Brazil’s left flank.

So Martinez could well be tempted to revert to a back four, dropping Meunier into the right-back slot while Jan Vertonghen shifts across from the centre of defence to the left-back position with the task of stifling Willian.

That move could also allow Marouane Fellaini to enter the starting eleven to challenge’s Brazil’s central midfield with his power and aerial ability, and the variety of attacking options at Martinez’s disposal mean he could easily choose between either a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation.

However, the three-man defence is Belgium’s stock shape and Martinez will be reluctant to abandon it, so he could retain that formation but order Meunier to play more defensively than normal in the hope of containing Neymar.

Roberto Martinez speaks

More rough stuff for Neymar?

On the subject of Neymar, it’s inevitable that the flamboyant winger will once again be at the centre of attention both on and off the pitch after a typically divisive performance in his team’s 2-0 victory over Mexico on Monday.

Neymar thrilled fans by scoring a brilliant opener and playing a key role in the second goal for Roberto Firmino – who is pushing hard to replace Gabriel Jesus in the starting line-up – but he also irritated by again displaying his propensity to ludicrously over-exaggerate some of the physical treatment he receives.

In Neymar’s defence, surely no other player in world football finds himself on the receiving end of so many crude challenges, with many opposition defenders and coaches obviously believing the best way to subdue his creative talents is to kick lumps out of him.

There will therefore be plenty of attention the extent of Belgium’s ferocity on Neymar, and on the match referee (not appointed at the time of writing) to see whether he will adopt a lenient or severe approach to the tough tackling the winger is sure to receive – and whether he will attempt to clamp down on Neymar’s theatrics.

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Can Fernandinho subdue De Bruyne?

Brazil manager Tite will be forced into one significant change, with powerhouse midfielder Casemiro suspended after picking up his second caution during the victory over Mexico.

Casemiro’s defensive excellence has been a key factor in Brazil’s ability to concede only one goal in their opening four games, and his absence will almost certainly give Fernandinho a chance to come into the starting eleven for a head to head showdown with Manchester City clubmate Kevin De Bruyne.

Fernandinho is clearly an experienced and capable campaigner, but he does not possess the same physical ruggedness as Casemiro and could be a little rusty after only playing 64 minutes so far in the tournament – all from the bench.

De Bruyne, of course, is a potential match-winner for Belgium and his ability to carve out opportunities for his teammates with his outstanding dribbling and slide-rule passing could be a key to the outcome. Fernandinho’s priority will be to stop him, and it will be a fascinating duel.

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