Tournament favourites Brazil will meet a resurgent Belgium in Kazan for the second quarter final of the 2018 World Cup.
Brazil has conceded the solitary goal in this World Cup with defensive solidity rather than offensive flair being the hallmark of their game so far in Russia.
Belgium, who was at the risk of a shock loss to Japan in the round of 16 after trailing 2-0 in the second half, came back to win the match 3-2, courtesy to inspired substitutions by Roberto Martinez and will look to take that form into this clash.
Overwhelming favourites against Japan and Belgium were brought down to earth after two quick Japanese goals in the second half.
The Japanese strategy of controlling the midfield and tiring out the midfield duo of Witsel and De Bruyne worked wonders, as they dispossessed them in key areas and exploited the space behind recently converted left wing back, Yannick Carrasco.
The introduction of Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli brought Belgium back in the game, as they started bombing crosses into the box, using their height advantage to claw back into the game.
Notwithstanding the spirit and fight Belgium showed, Martinez will be aware that Japan thoroughly outplayed them in large portions of the game due to their numerical advantage in midfield.
A way to redress the issue of midfield balance could be a change to a 4-3-3 formation from the existent 3-4-2-1.
Not only would it ensure an even battle with the Brazilian midfield three, but will also ensure that Kevin De Bruyne, the chief Belgian playmaker, will occupy more advanced positions on the pitch.
With Fellaini replacing Carrasco and Vertonghen playing as the left back, Belgium can also populate the Brazilian penalty box with more bodies, which will come in handy during set pieces and counter attacks.
If Martinez chooses to stick with the same formation at the risk of losing the midfield advantage, it will be crucial that Hazard occupies a more wide left role than the inside left channel he currently plays in, since Yannick Carrasco will need help while facing the constant threat of the effervescent Willian.
Getting the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne on the ball in dangerous areas is key if Belgium seek to upset the odds.
Barring the first twenty minutes of the pressing onslaught by Mexico, Brazil displayed control and maturity in negotiating a tricky tie.
In the second half, Brazil asserted their superiority, creating chance after chance, as they scored two goals.
Yet, Tite will be wary of a strong start from the lethal Belgium.
One way to counter that possibility for Brazil is to go on the offensive themselves.
Neymar, who was instrumental in both of Brazil’s goals in the pre-quarter final, could be the catalyst to a strong start with his tendency to bring his fellow attackers into the game by holding the ball and creating space for them.
Also to supplement his game, Tite may consider switching Gabriel Jesus for Liverpool’s Firmino.
Defensive midfielder, Casemiro, will sit out due to a suspension, meaning that Fernandinho will play in his place.
A third possible change is the re-entry of Marcelo in the starting lineup after he recovered from a freak back spasm injury.
With potent sources of creativity in the wings, Brazil will look to press the attack minded full backs of Belgium, hoping to get a numerical advantage through overloads.
Especially, key is the combination between Willian and Fagner.
If they are able to assert their intentions early on, it might force Martinez into tactical changes.
Brazil will hope that their midfield balance and defensive assuredness will prove enough to cross another hurdle in their path towards redemption.
Player to Watch Belgium Kevin De Bruyne: De Bruyne has been playing under Guardiola for two seasons, with the last being an especially successful one with City having a record breaking Premier League season. For City, De Bruyne played the role of a central midfielder in a 3-4-3 formation, similar to the role he plays for the Belgium. Perhaps, a large reason for Martinez to play the 3-4-2-1 formation is that it suits the likes of De Bruyne and Hazard, who play in this set up for their clubs. Against a physically dominant and forward surging midfield, the onus is on De Bruyne to not only be tactically aware, but also seize the moment and impose himself by creating chances for Mertens, Lukaku and Hazard. Martinez will hope that De Bruyne does not go missing in the crucial game, as he holds the keys to a free flowing performance. Brazil Willian: The unheralded Willian chose the perfect moment to display his offensive qualities with a energy packed and buoyant show against Mexico. He constantly beat his marker on the outside, delivering many good crosses, as well as combining dangerously with the overlapping wing back, Fagner.
His positional awareness, delivery from crosses and proposenity to press while defending make him an invaluable asset to Brazil’s endeavours in the right hand side, especially considering Belgium do not have a specialist left back.
Courtois- Meunier, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen- Fellaini, De Bruyne, Witsel- Hazard, Lukaku, Mertens.
Brazil: 1-4-3-3Alisson- Fagner, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo- Paulinho, Fernandinho, Coutinho- Neymar, Firmino, Willian.