A Fernandinho own goal and Kevin De Bruynes fine strike gave Belgium a 2-1 win over Brazil in their World Cup quarter-final
In years to come, when this stadium is a crumbling white elephant, they will sit in almost empty stands, hear the wind whisper across the marsh that surrounds it and believe what they hear is the ghosts of giants. In three games Kazan has claimed the winners of 11 World Cups. First Germany went, insipid against South Korea. Then, in a full-blooded epic, Argentina were blown away by France. And then fell the biggest of them all, Brazil, outwitted and outbattled by Belgium, who will face France in Tuesdays semi-final.
Brazil had chances. A few ricochets in the box did not fall their way. The hysteria that always surrounds them, the sense of desire and expectation, perhaps becomes at times inhibitive. Tite, almost certainly, will be blamed, because that is what coaches are for, but his half-time switch to a 4-4-2, bringing on Roberto Firmino in place of Willian and shifting Gabriel Jesus to the right, did stem the Belgian tide. The problem was that by then they were already 2-0 down, having been eviscerated on the break by Kevin De Bruyne. Renato Augusto did pull one back, heading in Philippe Coutinhos chip with 14 minutes remaining, but Belgium clung on.
Kazan has seen some astonishing matches in this World Cup but this, perhaps, was the best as Tite, even-handed as ever, acknowledged. It was a great game with two teams of incredible technical qualities, he said. Even with all the pain I feel now and the bitterness, I say that if you like football, you have to watch this game and you will have pleasure if you are not emotionally involved. Triangulations, transitions, saves, what a beautiful game!
Roberto Martnez may have been almost derided by the end of his time in the Premier League but he deserves enormous credit for Belgiums victory. His approach was bold, startlingly so, setting out a team that looked like the sort of lineup one would use to chase a game if a goal down with half an hour to go as, of course they had been against Japan in the last round. Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli, heroes of that comeback, were included and the system was a surprising one: a 4-3-3 with De Bruyne deployed as a false nine and Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard rampaging down the flanks.
Both the players Martnez brought in were involved in Belgiums opener, as was the deployment of De Bruyne. Dropping deep, he sliced open the defence with a through-ball to Fellaini whose scuffed shot yielded a corner. Chadli delivered to the near post and, as Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho jumped together, the ball deflected in off the midfielders right arm.