Overcoming mental block is key to win

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku jumping over team-mates to celebrate Brazil's own goal during the quarter-final in Kazan on Friday. Kevin de Bruyne made it 2-0 in the 31st minute before substitute Renato Augusto pulled one back for the Brazilians with 14 min
Belgium's Romelu Lukaku jumping over team-mates to celebrate Brazil's own goal during the quarter-final in Kazan on Friday. Kevin de Bruyne made it 2-0 in the 31st minute before substitute Renato Augusto pulled one back for the Brazilians with 14 minutes to go.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Belgium coach Martinez hails his heroes with 'amazing hearts' after beating mighty Brazil

KAZAN • Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said his side "deserve to be heroes" back home after downing five-time champions Brazil on Friday to set up a World Cup semi-final clash with France.

The Red Devils tore Brazil apart on the counter-attack in the first half as epitomised by playmaker Kevin de Bruyne's 31st-minute goal to double the lead after Fernandinho's own goal.

Tite's side halved the deficit with a header from Renato Augusto, but Belgium hung on to close out a famous 2-1 win at the Kazan Arena and reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 32 years.

"They did incredible. There were amazing hearts out there. I didn't think for one minute their hearts would give way," said Martinez of his players.

"You have to accept that Brazil have so much quality and finesse, they break you down, but we did not accept it. Not for one minute were (Belgium) going to give up.

"These boys deserve to be heroes in Belgium... We can pass that down the generations - beating Brazil."

Man-of-the-match de Bruyne said his team had passed a "test of character" in the closing 15 minutes as the tournament favourites peppered their goal but were unable to find an equaliser .

  • 9

    There have been nine Belgium scorers in Russia. Only Italy in 2006 and France in 1982 (both 10) have had more in a single World Cup.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois made eight saves and needed every inch of his nearly 2m frame to deny Brazil's talisman Neymar with a fingertip save in the dying minutes.

Martinez added that the greatest challenge Belgium overcame was the mental barrier.

"Against them, there's a psychological barrier - the yellow tops, the five world titles and everything that goes with that," the Spaniard said of facing Brazil.

Brazil had been undefeated in their last 15 games under Tite, a streak in which a resurgent Selecao had conceded only three goals. Friday was the first time in 30 matches in all competitions they let in more than one goal in a game.

"We played a match in which we had lots of possession, a lot of opportunities, but not in terms of effectiveness," Tite said after watching his side have 59 per cent of the ball and take 27 shots.

"Belgium managed to turn their opportunities into goals. They weren't superior to us on the pitch, but more efficient...

"It's a heavy, bitter feeling. This was very hard for us to swallow."

Substitute Augusto, who scored just three minutes and 14 seconds after coming on, said the result was harsh on the South Americans.

Like Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, the 30-year-old had a gilt-edged opportunity to level the scores but spurned it.

"We deserved a draw because we've created plenty of goal-scoring chances, we attacked quite well," said Augusto.

"But that's life. After the first goal, we hoped we still had time but it was not meant to be."

Four years after the psychodrama of Neymar's injury and a humiliating 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany as hosts, Coutinho admitted his team will have to face the music again.

"I'm sure we will be beaten up by criticism from all sides," the Barcelona playmaker told SporTV.

"Life goes on, that's football. You win and you lose."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

The scorers are (in order of first goal): • Dries Mertens • Romelu Lukaku (4) • Eden Hazard (2) • Michy Batshuayi • Adnan Januzaj • Jan Vertonghen • Marouane Fellaini • Nacer Chadli • Kevin de Bruyne • Belgium's 14th came from a Fernandinho own goal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 08, 2018, with the headline 'Overcoming mental block is key to win'. Print Edition | Subscribe