A place in the semi-finals will be on the line when Brazil and Belgium meet on Friday. THT looks at two key battles that could shape up this quarter-final tie.
The quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will begin on Friday with two blockbuster ties. Uruguay and France will start the day in Nizhny Novgorod before the proceedings are finished by two of the favourites for the title, when Brazil meet Belgium for their Last 8 tie at the Kazan Arena.
The two sides are coming into this fixture on the back of contrasting runs of form. While Brazil coasted past Mexico in their Round of 16 tie, Belgium had to come from two goals down to get past Japan. The Hard Tackle takes a look at two key battles that could go on to dictate who comes out on top on Friday.
Neymar vs Toby Alderweireld
Poster boy and talisman for Brazil, the pantomime villain for everyone else. Neymar has been in the news for all sorts of reasons at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. While he has been growing in form with each passing game, his antics when tackled have left many bewildered. But, it goes without saying that he will be Brazil’s main man on Friday once again.
The responsibility to stop Neymar in his tracks will fall upon a player who has arguably been Belgium’s best defender at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Toby Alderweireld has put speculation over his uncertain Tottenham future on the backburner to have his focus solely on delivering the goods for the Red Devils. And, more often than not, he has succeeded.
On Friday though, Alderweireld will need to be at his very best to stifle a player who is slowly but surely getting to his optimum level. Neymar’s pace, unpredictable movements and nippy touches will make him a handful for the seasoned defender. But, the 29-year-old has the guile and pace to deal with the threat posed by the Brazilian. A pivotal battle.
Fernandinho vs Kevin De Bruyne
This battle pits two teammates at the club level who usually operate alongside each other on the field. One initiates the build-up playing from deep positions in midfield, the other is the chief creator for Manchester City. But, on Friday, these two will look to get one up over the other.
Fernandinho will receive a lucky break on Friday in the Brazil midfield due to Casemiro’s suspension. The Real Madrid midfielder cannot be easily replaced, but the Manchester City man is more than capable to fill his void. Fernandinho will also have the added motivation to banish the memories of his last World Cup start – the embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014.
He has since bounced back quite well, turning in solid performances whenever called upon for Brazil while becoming one of the most important players at the club level for Manchester City. Kevin De Bruyne, on the other hand, will be the player Belgium look towards to inflict similar damage to Brazil as Germany.
The 27-year-old hasn’t had the best of World Cups thus far, instead producing efficient displays to inspire the Red Devils to their wins. But, while De Bruyne possesses impeccable vision, he will need the space to maneuver and dictate the tempo of the game, which Fernandinho is unlikely to provide him.
The two players have quite an intrinsic knowledge of each other having played day in day out at Manchester City. Who puts the knowledge to good effect will go a long way in influencing the midfield battle and thereby, the outcome of the game.