Belgium hold off Brazil fightback to reach semi-finals

Belgium celebrate against Japan

Belgium celebrate against Japan

Neymar's PSG future has been a topic of debate for some time and the possibility of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for Juventus could see the Brazilian the subject of another summer-long transfer saga.

If Belgium's first goal in the 13th minute had an element of luck, with the ball going into the net off Fernandinho's shoulder from a corner, the second in the 31st minute was a shining example of counter-attacking football.

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, though, made a fine save from Coutinho, while Serb referee Milorad Mazic waved away penalty appeals from Neymar and Gabriel Jesus.

With those three teams - three of the game's big powers, and three popular picks to win the World Cup before the start of the tournament - out, the road to World Cup glory and soccer immortality feels wide open for the remaining teams. Belgium and France will meet in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The other semifinal will be played on Wednesday between the winners of England-Sweden and Croatia-Russia.

While they were stretched as a defensive unit at times by Mexico in the round of 16, their scramble defence is far more effective than four years ago.

Belgium booked a World Cup semi-final against France as Brazil's hopes of winning a sixth title were ended by a 2-1 defeat in Kazan. "Just treasure it and pass it down in the generations".

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The World Cup is only the the latest major event to be held in the "Sports capital of Russia", which has hosted the Summer university games, the world swimming championships and World Fencing Championships over the last five years.

Roberto Martinez's side turned on the style in Kazan to clock up their fifth straight win of the tournament and ensure the semi-finals will be contested by four European sides for the first time.

"But now we need more energy for our next game to try to make sure we're just as good in the semi-finals", said Belgian coach Roberto Martinez.

"We're in the last four and we're happy, but you want to go to the final and play in the match the whole world will be watching and you want to do all you can to get there". Fernandinho's own-goal ensured for the first time since March 2017 that Brazil was trailing in a competitive match. Unlike then - an eventual 4-1 victory over Uruguay - there was no comeback.

A pair of early corners were poorly defended by Belgium, Thiago Silva only able to turn his effort against the post before Paulinho mishit his shot when picked out in the box. A booking - if he got one for diving - would have ruled him out of the semifinals.

"Not for one minute they weren't going to give up".

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