One thing seems to have been missed amid all the talk about a hard and an easy side of the World Cup draw: for an easy and a hard side to exist, so must logic. You have to apply the usual rules of football and sense to know which teams are more likely to beat which other teams.
Those rules seem to be absent this summer. Germany are out and Russia are still in. Wahbi Khazri scored more goals than Thomas Muller. Not one player remaining in the tournament has previously played in a final. There will be at least one team in the final who hasn’t reached that stage in at least 52 years. It’s plausible that both finalists could be first-timers.
Every game seems to throw up something implausible. We were solemnly warned that, while the group stages were fun, it would all get much more cautious and boring when the pressure of knockouts came. Tish and fipsy, as it turns out: at the time of writing the six second round games have seen two penalty shoot-outs, a 3-2, a 4-3 and Edinson Cavani did what he did against Portugal.
All of which is to say that trying to use sense and rational thought to work out what will happen in Friday’s quarter-final between Brazil and Belgium, is probably a task well avoided.
Belgium might go into it with a sense of just being happy to be there. They were, after all, within a few minutes of crashing out to Japan on Monday, a game that for all their protests to the contrary, they looked like they were taking rather lightly.
After starting pretty well, Belgium got complacent very quickly. They sat back and seemed to expect a goal would just be delivered at some stage, like someone sitting down in a restaurant and expecting someone with a white napkin over their arm to bring them some filet mignon, only to discover it’s counter service.
No goal/filet arrived. Instead Japan, growing in confidence, scored a couple of times and for a delicious few minutes after the second, were almost showboating in their assurance on the ball. They pinged the thing around like the greatest teams, assertiveness and insouciance in equal measures. They had chances to really bury Belgium, the football equivalent of Mortal Kombat encouraging you to “finish him.”
Being in the stadium, you could sense the panic, the realisation that this is a golden generation reaching their prime, potentially about to go out. “It’s time to shine,” said Eden Hazard before the game. The chances are Belgium won’t have a collection of players like this again for a long time, not a better chance of doing something tangible. For a while there, it looked like that was slipping away.
Ultimately, Belgium will tell themselves that the cool-headedness and basic cojones they showed to get back into the game will be a positive for the Brazil game. But nagging at the back of their minds will be the knowledge that, while clambering out of a great big hole is great, they did get themselves in that hole in the first place. You don’t necessarily congratulate yourself for mostly getting the stain out if you drop a plate of bolognese on the new cream carpet.
The weaknesses that Japan were able to exploit, often down the flanks where great acres of space sometimes stretch out like the Microsoft desktop background, Brazil will probably back themselves to do something with as well. Belgium, you would assume, won’t be so complacent against a team they are not expected to beat, but you can be as mentally prepared as you like for Neymar and Philippe Coutinho - it’s a whole different thing when the pair of them are running at you.
But there we are again, trying to figure out what’s going to happen. This has been a World Cup of flamboyant chaos, of the unexpected and the thrilling. Brazil v Belgium might be a game between the two best sets of players in the tournament, if perhaps not the strongest teams. Let’s hope it’s as lunatic as the rest.News Now - Sport News