Saturday 07 July 2018, 04:03

Belgium happy to do it the hard way

  • ​Belgium held firm to beat Brazil 2-1

  • Red Devils showed their mental strength

  • Their next date with destiny comes against France

By Simon Massart with Belgium

Aware that they were not going to beat Brazil in a beautiful football contest, Belgium found another way to shine when the two sides met in the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ in Kazan on Friday. Sitting deep on coach Roberto Martinez’s instructions, they invited the five-time world champions on and then countered at every opportunity, using the wide open spaces to show their considerable talents.

After falling behind to Fernandinho’s own goal 13 minutes in, A Seleção were caught cold by Belgium’s precise planning. “We had a gameplan and we executed it to perfection,” Romelu Lukaku told afterwards.

“I told my team-mates just before the game not to be scared because we had the game to beat Brazil, so long as we thought as a team,” added the striker, whose penetrating 40-yard run and lay-off set Kevin de Bruyne up for Belgium’s second goal of the night. It was a passage of play that encapsulated the striker’s words, as he swapped roles with his countryman, switching from hitman to provider.

If his tactics were going to work, Martinez knew that his Red Devils were going to have to roll their sleeves up, and no one showed more relish for the fight than the combative Marouane Fellaini. “The World Cup is no respecter of talent; it only respects teams,” said the smiling Belgium boss.

“My players are not just talented; they’re also very resourceful on a psychological and human level. And those are the qualities you need if you’re going to pull off the ultimate achievement at the World Cup: beating Brazil.”

Thomas Meunier’s post-match comments underlined Belgium’s commitment to Martinez’s battleplan. “I couldn't have fun getting forward tonight. It was all about making the sacrifice, and I wasn’t the only one,” said Meunier, who patrolled the Belgian right flank virtually single-handedly but picked up a yellow card that will keep him out of the semi-final meeting with France.

“We’ve got to congratulate De Bruyne, [Eden] Hazard and Lukaku. They gave their all for the team and ran themselves into the ground for us.”

After putting in such a shift, Meunier and Co took a while to savour their hard-fought win together in the dressing room. When they finally emerged, the Red Devils invited their fans to do the same, joining them in a victory chant.

Their joy was understandable: Friday’s victory was only the Belgians’ second against a side ranked in the top three of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking since 2002, the other one having come against the French.

When they arrived in Russia, Martinez’s warriors were determined to do justice to the slogan emblazoned on the side of their bus: “Red Devils on a mission”. That bus has taken them to five different stadiums, where they have recorded five straight wins, the latest of which showcased the full range of weaponry at their disposal and their insatiable appetite for a fight.