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Big Belgium Ousts Bitsy Brazil

July 6th, 2018 · No Comments · Brazil 2014, Fifa, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

What a curious match Brazil versus Belgium turned out to be.

It was a sort of soccer experiment:

“What would happen if 11 crazy-fast Munchkins with elite technical skills … met up with 11 mostly big and beefy guys with decent technique but marginal speed and quickness?”

The soccer scientists perhaps could have chosen a less significant event than a quarterfinal match at the World Cup to answer the question, above, but since Fifa scheduled the thing, calling it Brazil versus Belgium …

And the answer is?

In soccer, 11 crazy-fast Munchkins will win.

Unless they contrive not to by missing chance after chance after chance.

Or unless the big and slow guys have Kevin De Bruyne and Thibault Courtois on their team.

Some of the best sports event pit distinct styles, and Brazil and Belgium certainly gave us that, in a collision of sides with world championship aspirations and very little else in common.

The game opened with Brazil’s little guys swarming the Belgium goal and peppering it with shots. This one missed, that one hit the post, the other was saved by a keeper (Courtois) who is 6-foot-6.

Then came a brief interlude when the big guys took control of the game, launching a corner-kick that one of Brazil’s li’l guys elbowed into the net for an own goal.

Belgium made it 2-0 soon after when De Bruyne rifled a long, low shot inside the far post.

Belgium came close to a third goal, which some suggested might have caused Brazil to implode (see: Germany 7, Brazil 1, 2014 World Cup semifinals) and the match to turn into a rout.

Instead, Brazil came out after the break and ran the legs off the big Belgium boys, who were getting slower by the minute and whose fine motor skills were being destroyed by industrial quantities of lactic acid turning their legs to rubber.

The second half went like this:

–Brazil’s bitty guys surge forward. Belgium’s big and old and slow rear guard lumbers in pursuit. (And, yes, we’re talking about Vincent Kompany, who looks 40, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.) And those three were “supported” in midfield by the feckless Alex Witsel and Marouane Fellaini, the closest thing we have seen to an orange practice cone at this World Cup. (Though Fellaini does hammer home Belgium’s complete dominance of the air … as well as open them up to abuse by small, fancy dribblers.

–Holes the size of Luxembourg opened in the back, and the Belgian defense fought to close them by almost-but-not-quite-fouling the likes of Neymar, Coutinho, Grabriel Jesus, Douglas Costa, Firmino and Marcelo as they slashed through the box, but the attackers were jostled just enough to put them off (creating a long list of “should a penalty have been called there?”, in post-match discussions) or they Just Plain Missed from point-blank range or, too, there was Courtois making ridiculous saves. (Maybe Landon would not have scored from pointblank range at Brazil 2014; Courtois is that good.

–For a time, Belgium would win the ball back, and punt it toward the other end of the pitch, where Lukaku or Eden Hazard might pick it up and send the Munchkins scurrying back in retreat to support Miranda as he grappled and tripped (Lukaku looks like an NFL linebacker, for goodness sake; he looks like he could eat Gabriel Jesus for lunch) until help arrived.

–Then Brazil would win back the ball, starting the cycle over again.

This was one of those games when I was talking to the TV, because my sense was not the post-match take that Belgium coach Roberto Martinez may be a genius … but, rather, that 1) Belgium was leaning on a long and longer run of luck without making any tactical changes and 2) that Martinez’s big guys were gassed and substitutes should have been on the pitch no later than the 70th minute and 3) Witsel had to come out of the game, for the love of God.

Brazil made changes first, and they yielded results, including the fine goal from Renato Augusto, on in the 73rd minute, scored in the 76th minute.

Meanwhile, Martinez finally — finally! — sent on two subs in the final 10 minutes, with another big slug, Thomas Vermaelen on in the 83rd minute for the used up midfielder Nacer Chadli, and in the 87th minute, when Youry Tielemans replaced Lukaku, who had not been tracking back for at least 20 minutes.

Ultimately, lots of missed chances by Brazil, dogged perseverance by the exhausted Belgians, the refereee’s refusal to see any incidents of penalties and lots and lots of Courtois allowed Belgium to achieve its biggest victory since reaching the semis in 1986.

After, I had newfound respect for Neymar, who doesn’t flop nearly as much when his team is down two in the second half (no time to waste on theatrics) and who showed an iron will in spurring Brazil to assault the Belgian fortress again and again.

But the team I wanted won, despite itself. I don’t know if Belgium can beat France next Tuesday and reach a first final, but I do know that Brazil is going home and its barren run of World Cup championships will be up to 20 years when Qatar 2022 kicks off.



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