Belgium knocks Brazil out of World Cup

Five-time champion Brazil crashed out of the World Cup after losing 2-1 to Belgium in an enthralling quarterfinal in Kazan.

A Fernandinho own goal and Kevin De Bruyne’s wonder-strike saw Belgium take a commanding and deserved half-time lead.

But Brazil battled back in the second period as it sought to salvage its World Cup dream.

Renato Augusto’s header halved the deficit 15 minutes from time and set up a thrilling finale.

Yet the Red Devils held firm to book a semifinal place against France.

Brazil shell-shocked

The result means that for the first time ever, the World Cup semifinals will not feature one of Brazil, Argentina or Germany.

With Brazil the favorites to win the tournament in Russia before Friday’s match, it also leaves the 2018 World Cup wide open — of the six teams left in the competition, only France and England are past winners.

Belgium will no doubt fancy its chances of claiming a first World Cup crown after a stunning performance of skill, intelligence and no little effort.

An ecstatic Belgium manager, Roberto Martinez, described his players as “heroes” after the final whistle.

Back in Belgium thousands of fans celebrated at public screenings of the match in the cities of Antwerp and Brussels.

For Brazil, however, it was yet another disappointment against a European opponent on the biggest stage.

The last time Brazil defeated a European team in the knockout stages of a World Cup was the 2002 final in Japan when it outclassed Germany — a stunning statistic for a nation of its footballing pedigree.

Incisive Belgium

While deserved winners, the Red Devils were the beneficiaries of a touch of fortune as they took the lead after just 13 minutes. Nacer Chadli’s corner deflected off the arm of the unfortunate Fernandinho and into his own net.

There was nothing lucky about Belgium’s second, however, as De Bruyne’s incisive run was finished with an arrowing shot that flew past Alisson in the Brazil goal on the half-hour mark.

Brazil’s players looked shell-shocked as wave after wave of Belgian attack flowed towards their goal.

Only Marcelo remained from the starting 11 that endured the infamous 7-1 semi-final humiliation against Germany four years ago.

But it appeared this group of players was beginning to exhibit some of the same mental fragilities, with Belgium unfortunate not to add to its advantage before halftime.

This was also new, unwanted territory for Brazil under manager Tite, who had never seen his side concede more than a single goal in any of his previous 26 games at the helm of “a Selecao”.

Neymar, who missed that humbling against Germany four years ago due to injury, also appeared to be struggling with a knock in the first half.

An obvious dive just after halftime, meanwhile, drew whistles from the crowd and little sympathy from referee Milorad Mazic of Serbia.

What seemed like a more serious penalty shout was then waved away when Gabriel Jesus was felled by Belgium captain Vincent Kompany in the box.

Brazil fights back

As the second half wore on, however, Brazil began to dominate.

It finally got its breakthrough with 15 minutes remaining, setting up an enthralling end to the game.

Coutinho’s deft chip into the box was perfectly placed for substitute Renato Augusto, who nodded the ball brilliantly past the outstretched arm of Courtois.

Cue the Brazilian onslaught.

Coutinho and Augusto both had gilt-edged chances to equalize in the dying stages, before Courtois pulled off one of the saves of the tournament to deny Neymar.

But Belgium, tired yet resilient, deservedly held on to reach only its second ever World Cup semifinal.