Belgium shot Brazil out of the World Cup with a 2-1 quarterfinal win yesterday to set up a semifinal clash with France on Tuesday.
The five-time champions did everything in their power to crawl out of the 2-0 hole they had found themselves in within the first 30 minutes -- which saw Fernandinho head the ball into his own net before Kevin de Bruyne fired in a clean right-footer into Allison Becker's far post -- but could only pull back one in the 83rd minute of the game. It was a Renato Augusto header that finally beat Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made at least half a dozen saves to take the men in red close to dreamland.
Earlier, in the first quarterfinal match, France had made light work of Uruguay in a 2-0 win, who looked lost in attack without star striker Edinson Cavani to complement Luis Suarez. Raphael Varane soared high and headed home the opening goal from a brilliant Antoine Griezmann free-kick in the 40th minute before Griezmann doubled the lead in the 61st minute courtesy of goalkeeper Fernando Muslera's incredible blunder.
For Brazil it was a chastening blow after playing so well in the last three games. Interestingly, it was the very ground where young French forward Kylian Mbappe destroyed Argentina with his pace and guile a week ago. Last night it was the turn of Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku, who rattled a Brazil defence that conceded just one goal in the last four games.
Belgium's opening goal came off a quick counter attack. Lukaku made a darting run down the middle before releasing the ball to Marouane Fellaini, whose shot was blocked for a corner. Belgian defender Vincent Kompany's backwards header from the near post was deflected into Brazil's net by Fernandinho, who actually had a miserable game after coming into the team as a replacement for the suspended Casemiro.
Belgium silenced the five-time world champions again in the 31st minute. Although De Bruyne scored with neat right-footer past Alisson, the instigator was once again a giant Lukaku. The 25-year-old powered through the middle and drew almost all of Brazil's defensive pack towards himself before releasing a perfect through pass wide on the right-hand side from where Manchester City forward De Bruyne made no mistake in drilling a low shot.
By time Brazil captain Miranda was entrusted with the duty to defuse Lukaku, the Belgian had already done the damage. After that it was the Courtois' turn, the Chelsea goalkeeper who kept Brazil at bay time and again.
It is not that Brazil were at the receiving end in a game that was played at a frantic pace. They were not only unlucky to have one of their many attempts come off the post, but they had at least four shots saved by Courtois in the first half.
Brazil made two changes in the second half with Roberto Firmino coming on in place of Willian at the interval before Gabriel Jesus made way for Douglas Costa in 55th minute to bolster the attack.
They created a lot of opportunities but were only to be blamed as they wasted at least four chances with only Courtois to beat. Augusto replaced Paulinho in the 70th minute and headed a Coutinho floater into the net in the 73rd minute.
Brazil still had plenty of time to score but somehow managed to shoot the ball wide from advantageous positions.
With the game heading into the last ten minutes and a tiring Belgium resorting to time wasting, Neymar dashed down the flank before providing a neat cutback to Firmino, whose left footed shot on the turn flew over the bar.
Augusta had only Courtois to beat in the 80th minute but shot the ball miles over the bar. Brazil had a final chance to take the game into extra-time when Neymar nicely fed Coutinho with a superb cutback in the 85th minute. But the Barcelona forward, who had earlier in the tournament scored a couple of magnificent goals, somehow managed to shoot the ball over the bar from top of the box. And when Courtios tipped Neymar's curler over the bar, a defeat was a foregone conclusion.
Brazil's departure from the tournament means that six out of the eight teams who have already won the World Cup have left the biggest stage. France, who dispatched former champions Uruguay 2-0 in the first match of the day, are one of two remaining heavyweights alongside England.