Familiar Faces at War in Kazan

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  • As Brazil battles Belgium for s’final ticket

Friday’s quarter-final clash of the 2018 World Cup here in Russia between Brazil and Belgium ought to be a family affairs. But because of the semi final ticket at stake, Manchester City teammates in the two teams will put Etihad affinity aside this evening as they try to outdo each in the battle of Kazan.

Five of Europe’s biggest clubs have both Brazil and Belgium internationals on the books. Manchester City alone has six of the players who will lock horns this evening in the battle for a place in the semis. Belgian Citizens Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany however pull rank over Brazilian Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho (who are both expected to start), Danilo and Ederson.

Despite the ranking Kompany knows the havoc Jesus in particular is capable of doing if given half a chance in the goal area. Just like de Bruyne, his compatriot.

He admitted this in the pre-match chat here yesterday.

“He (Jesus) can score goals and create space for his team-mates with his movement and work rate,” said the central defender in reference to Gabriel, before adding: “I really like my team-mates a lot as people, but once the handshakes are over there’ll be no love lost.”

As for Fernandinho, his job will be to prevent Kompany from getting the ball to De Bruyne, who in turn will look to link up with another of their compatriot, Romelu Lukaku, who plays for another Manchester team, United.

Another reunion to look forward to is the one between Brazilian Neymar and Thomas Meunier. Although there is not much the right-back does not know about the Brazilian ace, having marveled at his technique at Paris Saint-Germain, he is less than sure about how to blunt the threat he poses when the chips are down in this crucial quarter final pairing.

“I don’t know how to stop him. He’s very unpredictable,” said Meunier of Neymar’s capacity. “Neymar is probably the best player I’ve ever played with or against. I’ll do my best. I know we have a chance but I also know that it’s very tough to stop them as a whole, not just Neymar.”

The Belgian would like nothing better than a repeat of the 4-0 score-line that PSG inflicted on Barcelona and Neymar in the UEFA Champions League last season, which came before the Brazilian decamped to the French capital to link up with fellow countrymen Marquinhos and Thiago Silva.

Along with Thibaut Courtois and Michy Batshuayi, Eden Hazard has long been dreaming of taking on Brazil and their Chelsea team-mate Willian in the Final, a pleasure he will now have in the quarter-finals instead.

The two formed an instant connection on and off the pitch at Stamford Bridge. The similarity in their games no doubt plays a part in that; both like to express themselves to feel fulfilled and will in all likelihood be trying to avoid each other in Kazan so they can do just that.

Though Simon Mignolet and Thomas Vermaelen are unlikely to be facing their Brazilian club-mates on the pitch, they are well versed in the way of the Seleção attack. The goalkeeper will have some advice to give to Courtois on the positioning and movements of Liverpool colleague Roberto Firmino.

For his part, the central defender, who is also a team-mate of Paulinho’s, has been trying to cope with the ability of Philippe Coutinho to dribble with the ball, evade markers and dictate the pace in Barcelona training sessions since January.

And in the lead-up to the big game, Coutinho’s former Liverpool team-mate Christian Benteke, who failed to make Robert Martinez’s 23-man Belgian squad, has been doing his bit to stir the pot on Twitter.

The Brazilians who know they are in for a tough duel are unfortunately going to miss Casemiro, a key element in the midfield. His replacement, Fernandinho even if he is not as physically imposing has a huge task ahead of him against Belgium.

This quarter-final which represents one of the last chances for Belgium to shine at the highest level, with the best team in the their history is first time that they will face Brazil, truly believing they can win. Only 90 minutes will decide which of the star studded football power-houses step into the semis

Since USA 1994, Brazil has always reached at least the quarter-finals of a World Cup. In 1994 and 2002, they were crowned champions, while they finished as runners-up in 1998.

POSSIBLE LINE-UPS
Brazil: Alisson; Fagner, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Filipe Luis/Marcelo; Fernandinho, Paulinho; Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld; Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Nacer Chadli, Thomas Meunier; Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard; Romelu Lukaku