WORLD CUP 2018

Belgium need 'power' against favourites

Brazil goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who has conceded only one goal in Russia, with his daughter Helena during a training session at the Yug Sport Stadium in Sochi, on Tuesday. His form will be vital for Tite's side.
Brazil goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who has conceded only one goal in Russia, with his daughter Helena during a training session at the Yug Sport Stadium in Sochi, on Tuesday. His form will be vital for Tite's side.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Martinez may start lanky Fellaini to give team physical edge in 'match of the tournament'

MOSCOW • Brazil are the favourites in what Belgium coach Roberto Martinez described as a "dream match" for his players when the two nations meet in the World Cup quarter-finals tomorrow.

"Against Brazil, it will not be about ball possession, but what you do with it. That's what this World Cup is all about," the Spaniard told Belgian media yesterday.

"We know what we are capable of but Brazil are the favourites, putting us into a different role.

"But it's a dream match for our players, they were born to play in a match like this. We want to win, but we are not expected to and that is an important difference."

Martinez saw his side rally from the brink of elimination to snatch a last-gasp 3-2 win over Japan in the last 16 on Monday to face the five-time World Cup winners.

At times, Belgium looked hamstrung by Japan's pressing tactics and needed more than an hour to unshackle themselves and set about a dramatic come-from-behind victory after falling behind 2-0.

For tomorrow's match, the tactics might be simpler.

ASSESSING EXPECTATIONS

It's a dream match for our players, they were born to play in a match like this. We want to win, but we are not expected to and that is an important difference.

ROBERTO MARTINEZ, Belgium coach, on why his side are mentally ready to face five-time winners Brazil.

"Against a team like Brazil, you must attack and defend with 11 players. We are not talking about a system but understanding what we must do when we have possession," Martinez added.

"We have to defend as well as we can and then cause them pain when we have the ball. It can be that simple and this squad is ready for that."

He faces a tricky decision over his line-up, with Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini pressing for starts after coming off the bench against Japan to turn the game around in the last half-hour.

"I know in my head what I want to do. We will need power," he said, in a hint that the physical presence of Fellaini might be deployed from the beginning.

"If we show the same mentality as we did on Monday, we have a big chance. I think it will be the match of the tournament."

After watching holders Germany, Spain and Argentina all exit the competition in the last week in various states of disarray, Brazil eased into the quarter-finals with a 2-0 victory against Mexico on Monday.

Brazil are favourites not just because of superstar Neymar, but because coach Tite has instilled an admirable collective discipline and his team are built on solid foundations.

They have conceded just one goal so far at this World Cup. Since then, goalkeeper Alisson Becker has kept three straight clean sheets, with Brazil winning 2-0 against Costa Rica, Serbia and Mexico. They have also conceded just four shots on target in four matches.

History shows that the team with the best defence tend to win the trophy. And while Brazil have always possessed brilliant individuals, they have also long since been pragmatists above all else.

On Monday, Tite switched to a 4-4-2 formation after Mexico caused Brazil early problems, and they had a foundation to go on and win the game in the second half.

There is also strength in depth throughout the squad - Casemiro, Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho provide different qualities in midfield, while Willian came up with his best performance of the tournament against Mexico.

Gabriel Jesus has yet to find the net, but Roberto Firmino came off the bench to score on Monday and is pushing for a start.

It promises to be a thriller tomorrow when Brazil, who have the joint-best defence at the tournament along with Uruguay, face a Belgium outfit who have been the most prolific, with 12 goals scored.

It remains to be seen how Brazil will cope with the absence of Casemiro, the Real Madrid powerhouse who screens the defence from deep in midfield.

He is suspended, meaning Fernandinho is likely to come in.

The 33-year-old does not offer the same degree of protection, although his inside knowledge of Manchester City colleague Kevin de Bruyne of Belgium could be invaluable as Brazil look to keep their challenge going for a sixth title.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2018, with the headline 'Belgium need 'power' against favourites'. Print Edition | Subscribe