Seeing the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian turn out for Chelsea and Vincent Kompany, Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho feature for Manchester City is quite a common scene in the English Premier League. This time around however, all of these club mates will meet in Kazan, Russia, albeit for their respective national sides Brazil and Belgium, as the two sides face off against each other Friday in the second quarter-final of the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
The connection between both the squads is so deep that as many as 18 club mates will lock horns with each other. City lead the roster - Jesus, Fernandinho, Ederson, De Bruyne and Kompany, followed by PSG – Neymar, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Thomas Meunier, Barcelona – Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho and Thomas Vermaelen, Chelsea – Willian, Thibaut Courtois, Hazard and Michy Batshuayi, and Liverpool – Roberto Firmino and Simon Mignolet.
Both the teams are in superb form going into the quarter-final tie.
The free-scoring Red Devils have netted 12 times so far, conceding only four, while the solid Brazilian backline last shipped a goal 310 minutes ago, against Switzerland in their opening group stage match.
Brazil got back Marcelo before the high-voltage clash while manager Tite continues to rotate his captain after every game. This time, Miranda will lead the side after attending the official press conference Thursday, along with Tite.
The absence of the combative Casemiro due to two bookings is a big blow for the Selecao, but in Fernandinho, Brazil will get a like-for-like replacement. Fernandinho is a modern-day midfielder and has vast experience of playing with, and against, several Belgian players.
The Red Devils’ major challenge will be to neutralise the impact of the in-form Neymar, who is slowly but surely reaching top form. Neymar is perhaps the last remaining “great player” in the greatest show on earth after the departures of Argentina captain Lionel Messi and Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo. PSG sensation Neymar leads the stats heading into the quarter-final stage of the Russia World Cup - most shots attempted (23), shots on target (12), chances created (16) and dribbles attempted (40).
Overall, Neymar has now been directly involved in 20 goals in his last 19 appearances for Brazil, featuring 11 goals and nine assists. In total, the former Barcelona footballer had a hand in 91 goals in 89 appearances for Brazil, scoring 57 and assisting 34. If he continues at this rate, the 26-year old will easily surpass the legendary Brazilian Pele’e 77-goal record in the yellow jersey by the next two years.
Tite showed huge respect for Belgium in the presser.
He said, “It will be a great match. Both teams excel with beautiful football. Belgium have great players and a great coach as well. I’ve always put them in the group of favourites [for the title]. It’s the same now.
Cant wait for Friday. Uffffff what games we will be watching. Brazil vs Belgium France vs Uruguay. #Worldcup2018Russia— arjun rampal (@rampalarjun) July 3, 2018
“In the last third of the pitch, we are very strong individually and very skilful. That’s what I tell them all the time: the coach works to get them well-organised off the ball and in the build-up. But when we get to the last third it’s time for them to use their creativity.”
With players like Romelu Lukaku and Hazard up front, Belgium have shown that their golden generation are peaking at just the right time. Lukaku, who with four goals is in the running for the Golden Boot, might not have found the net against Japan in the last 16 but Belgium still won after scripting a brilliant two-goal comeback. They would set a new national record of winning five straight World Cup matches if they can beat five-time world champion Brazil.
The two teams met in the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup where goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldo guided the Selecao to victory.
Without a doubt, the Japan clash was a tough one for manager Roberto Martinez and his charges. But Belgium must surely have learnt their lessons after the great escape. Substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli, who both scored against Japan after coming from the bench, could appear in the starting XI as a reward for their performance.
Martinez was on cloud nine after overcoming a 2-0 deficit against Japan, saying: “That was a test for the team and [their] character.
Neymar training hard for Brazil's quarter-final against Belgium! 🤣🏊 pic.twitter.com/c8udzfO0Nl— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) July 5, 2018
"I must say this World Cup is by far the best I have been involved in.”
A veteran with 14 years of international experience, Kompany was humble on the eve of the most important clash in the history of Belgian football.
"Brazil are superior to us individually and they can also count on great collective organisation. I think we should not underestimate the stress and nerves such a match could trigger. It could make the difference [Friday]."
Following the 1994 World Cup, Brazil have always reached the last eight of the World Cup but whether they can progress further in Russia remains to be seen.