When the battle to reach the last four in the World Cup starts today after a couple of days' break, both Brazil and France will desperately look for a semifinal collision course, something they would otherwise have tried to avoid before the final.
France will take on Uruguay at Nizhny in the afternoon game. Four hours later Brazil will be up against Belgium at Kazan Arena fully aware of who they would be facing in the first semifinal provided that they overcome a team they met on the biggest stage only once before. It was a round of 16 game in the 2002 World Cup and the Selecaos won it 2-0 thanks to strikes from Ronaldo, El Phenomenon, and Rivaldo. Brazil have so far won their last three games by identical 2-0 margins and will gleefully accept another brace. However, Brazil must be aware of Belgium's exploits in the last game against Japan, who conceded a 2-0 lead in the last 20 minutes before losing 3-2.
Belgium's golden generation were a great disappointment in Brazil four years ago. Vincent Kompany's brigade of Eden Hazard, giant goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Marouanne Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne fizzled away when they were needed most. They also had a mixed bag in Russia so far. Even against Japan, where they showed the tenacity to come back from 2-0 down, they did not look like a team capable of travelling the distance.
The Belgium game will be a tough test for Brazil. They will miss their defensive midfielder Casemiro due to suspension. It is likely that Fernandinho will start. But Brazil coach Tite, who had earlier named his starting eleven during the pre-match briefing, decided to keep it close to his chest for a change this time around.
The professor not even confirmed if Marcelo would be back after missing the last two games due to a back spasm. He was also against the idea of giving Roberto Firmino a start in place of a misfiring strike Gabriel Jesus, who is yet to score a goal.
Defender Miranda, who will captain the team against Belgium, while appearing at the briefing with Tite said that Belgium were not all about Hazzard or Lukaku. “They are collectively a very strong team. It will be a tough game for us but we know how to tackle this kind of games."
Interestingly, Tite is yet to allow the captain's armband to any of his forwards or midfielders including Neymar. After Marcelo captained the first game, Thiago Silva and Miranda took the honour so far in what is an already-famous as a rotational policy.
Meanwhile, France might have won against two-time winners Uruguay only once in their last seven meetings --- they are yet win a game in the World Cup against La Celeste -- but this talented and youthful side have shown that they are more than capable of ending the jinx after that fabulous 4-3 win against Argentina last week where superstar-in-the-making Kylian Mbappe made the difference with his sonic bursts of speed. The 19-year-old set up the first goal before scoring twice in the second half to send Lionel Messi's Argentina packing.
Uruguay will desperately look for their injured striker Edinson Cavani, who struck a brace in a 2-1 win that sent Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal packing from the round of 16, to defy the pain and keep his golden boot ambitions alive.
Tite said Brazil's match against Belgium will be an exciting contest. But the Selecao fans want another dominant display from their team in quest of fulfilling the dream of hexa.