19:00 BST, Friday 6th July, Kazan Arena (Kazan, Russia), BBC One
Five-time champions Brazil face perennial dark horses Belgium in the most exciting quarter-final on paper. Both sides remain unbeaten, with Roberto Martinez’s men winning all their games so far.
Brazil have made it to the quarter-finals with relative ease. Tite’s side drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their opening game, but have not looked back since, with fairly comfortable wins against Costa Rica, Serbia, and Mexico in their last-16 tie.
After routing Panama and Tunisia, Belgium had already qualified from their group by the time they faced England. They won that game 1-0 as both teams played a second-string side to finish first in the group, but Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli had to bail them out against Japan.
For the Seleccao, this is their first real test as they look to banish the ghosts of the Mineirazo from 2014.
Last Time Out
Brazil 2-0 Mexico
Mexico threatened Brazil in the first half of their last-16 clash, but faded away as the game went on. Two moments of brilliance were enough for Neymar and co to beat El Tri and book a place in the quarter-finals.
Guillermo Ochoa put in another incredible performance in goal after his heroics against Brazil in the 2014 group stages, but he was beaten five minutes into the second half when Willian squared for a Neymar tap-in.
Despite some remarkable saves to keep the game alive, Brazil sealed the win in the 88th minute with another simple finish as Roberto Firmino turned in Neymar’s deflected effort.
Neymar was the centre of attention once again, not just for his goal and assist, but for his theatrics when Miguel Layun appeared to step on him. The Paris Saint-Germain forward’s reaction to the challenge drew criticism, but Brazil will be more concerned about losing Casemiro to suspension.
The Real Madrid midfielder picked up his second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he will miss the quarter-final.
Belgium 3-2 Japan
Belgium secured a thrilling turnaround in their last-16 tie against Japan, with Fellaini and Chadli the unlikely heroes.
Japan were excellent throughout and came close to surprising Martinez’s team. Genki Haraguchi scored after Jan Vertonghen failed to cut out a pass from Gaku Shibasaki, before star player Takashi Inui struck from 25 yards to set the Japanese on their way to a famous victory.
Martinez’s double substitution in the 65th minute did not seem inspired at the time, but it changed the game for the Red Devils. Vertonghen made up for his earlier error with a fluke of a headed goal, and then Fellaini levelled the score with one of his textbook headers, unmarked from an Eden Hazard cross.
Read more on how to get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne HERE.
All that was left was for Chadli to complete the comeback in the fourth minute of injury time. Thibaut Courtois started the move, Kevin De Bruyne aggressively drove forwards and within seconds the West Brom man had side-footed home a Thomas Meunier pass after a clever dummy from Romelu Lukaku.
The two main concerns for Brazil are Casemiro and Marcelo. The defensive midfielder is ruled out through suspension, so Fernandinho will probably take his place having come on for Paulinho against Mexico.
Marcelo has been recovering from a back injury, which meant he limped off the pitch nine minutes into Brazil’s group stage match against Serbia.
The Real Madrid left-back returned to training on Tuesday, as did Danilo and Douglas Costa, so should be fit to play. If not, Filipe Luis will stand in as he did in the last-16.
It is unclear how many changes Martinez will make to his lineup after narrowly beating Japan, or whether Belgium will revert to the more orthodox 4-2-3-1 formation which they often switch to during games.
Fellaini and Chadli may have made a case to start, but they are likely to be benched. The real question is how the Belgium manager will use Kevin De Bruyne, with the Manchester City playmaker restricted last time out.
Key Battle: Eden Hazard (Belgium) vs Fagner (Brazil)
The spotlight may be on Neymar, but his opposite number will be just as important in determining the outcome of this quarter-final. Eden Hazard has shown flashes of brilliance so far, with two goals and two assists, but he will need to be at his very best if his side are to knock the Seleccao out.
With Dani Alves ruled out before the tournament through injury, Tite chose 29-year-old Corinthians right-back Fagner to deputise for the PSG man. The stand-in was shaky when faced with Mexico’s Hirving Lozano, and could face his hardest challenge yet if Hazard is on song.
The Chelsea forward could expose the right-back’s lack of pace in the same way that Mexico’s frontline did, though Juan Carlos Osorio’s side were not able to make it count. This match may well be a different story.
Can Lukaku punish Brazil?
The Manchester United striker played a pivotal role in the dramatic win against Japan, with his run creating space for Meunier to attack and his dummy setting up the perfect chance for Chadli to send the Belgium fans crazy.
It was the kind of football intelligence which Lukaku is often accused of lacking, proving his Premier League critics wrong. He is joint-second for the Golden Boot behind Harry Kane, but he was wasteful when faced with goal in the last-16 tie.
If Belgium’s number nine can combine the kind of awareness he showed in the final minutes of that game with his ruthlessness in the group stage, then Martinez’s side could punish Alisson.
Will the Seleccao click into gear?
Brazil are now 15 games unbeaten under Tite, the former Corinthians manager who has restored confidence following the 7-1 horror show in Belo Horizonte four years ago.
They have not always impressed in this tournament, however, drawing to Switzerland and requiring two goals in stoppage time to beat Costa Rica.
Neymar has endured a frustrating campaign at times, having been fouled on 23 occasions, more than any other player at this World Cup. But with the most shots, shots on target and chances created, it is clear he can create something out of nothing.
The same is true of Brazil. They haven’t always clicked over 90 minutes, but they haven’t had to – until now. This could be the match where we see Brazil at their very finest.
Prediction: Brazil 3-2 Belgium
This has the potential to be one of the games of the tournament, with both teams going all-out for a place in the semi-finals. The quality in attack is obvious, and so expect this to be a high-scoring match.
Brazil might suffer a few scares, but panache from the likes of Neymar and Coutinho should be enough for them to see off the threat from a buoyant Belgium.
Listen to the RealSport football writers preview all the action ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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