Brazil vs. Belgium: Preview and Predictions for World Cup 2018 Quarter-Final

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2018

TOPSHOT - Brazil's forward Neymar celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil will face Belgium in the quarter-final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after beating Mexico and Japan in their respective round-of-16 matches on Monday.

The two teams will meet at the Kazan Arena on Friday after producing five goals during the first knockout phase. Brazil played within themselves, but still had enough to see off Mexico 2-0, with Neymar in good form as he scored one and assisted the other.

Later, Belgium edged past Japan in a 3-2 thriller thanks to substitute Nacer Chadli, who netted the last-minute winner to complete his country's comeback from 2-0 down.

  • Brazil vs. Belgium, Friday, July 6: 9 p.m. local time (7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ET)

Win or Lose, Focus Will Again be on Neymar

It's been an eventful tournament so far for Neymar, who has produced moments of brilliance but still been no stranger to controversy. The pattern continued against Mexico, with plenty of El Tri supporters willing to mock the forward's willingness to go to ground:

talkSPORT @talkSPORT

Angry Mexico fans give their impressions of Neymar 😂😂 #WorldCup | #TSWorldCup https://t.co/Wxkiw1WeKr

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio was even stronger in his condemnation of Neymar's perceived antics, calling them "not a good example for soccer, and for the world of soccer, for all the kids playing. This should be a sport of ability, of determination, a game of men, not of so much clowning," per Telemundo Deportes (h/t Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports).

Perhaps irked by his critics, Neymar offered no sympathy to Osorio and his players:

FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

Neymar has thoughts... https://t.co/tk8KZUqCHo

In many ways, Neymar's showing against Mexico was similar to his performance during a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in Group E. He scored and conjured some moments of deft skill, but was also booked for dissent, accused of diving and saw a penalty overturned by the video assistant referee.

Despite the negativity surrounding his on-field behaviour, Neymar has still been delivering the goods for Brazil:

Match of the Day @BBCMOTD

Most shots on target 1⃣2⃣ Most chances created 1⃣6⃣ Most fouls suffered 2⃣3⃣ Most dribbles attempted 3⃣5⃣ Neymar has been causing havoc for #BRA at the #WorldCup so far. https://t.co/yP6YVGr2Mo

Whether good or bad, Neymar will again be the main focus, this time over Belgium's big names, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

Belgium Will Score in a Losing Effort

The presence of Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne means Belgium are likely to score, even against a Brazil defence breached just once during four matches in Russia.

Lukaku will again provide ample scoring threat.
Lukaku will again provide ample scoring threat.JEWEL SAMAD/Getty Images

Yet the Red Devils should fear no backline after hitting 12 goals in four games. The latest three broke Japan hearts while also showcasing the strength in depth of coach Roberto Martinez's squad.

Centre-back Jan Vertonghen got the comeback started in the 69th minute, but it was substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Chadli who made the difference. The former powered in a header on 74 minutes, while Chadli pounced for the winner deep into injury time.

Their introductions proved decisive after Martinez had begun the game with a 5-3-2 formation that left Belgium overrun in the central areas of midfield. When he brought on Fellaini and Chadli, Martinez pushed Hazard and De Bruyne closer to striker Lukaku, prompting the dramatic turnaround:

Luke James @LEJ88

Martinez deserves some credit. Had a plan B and it worked. They ditched the tiki taka and scored from two headers. And both subs scored #BELJPN

Although Martinez eventually changed things for the better, the gaps in Belgium's defence were obvious. They can be exploited by a versatile forward line led ably by Neymar, who is impressively supported by Willian and Philippe Coutinho.

This group can exploit a team vulnerable in wide areas and lacking a true ball-winner at the base of midfield.

Brazil will be without the best midfield enforcer in the competition after Real Madrid holding player Casemiro was booked against Mexico, per Jim White of The Telegraph.

Brazil will miss Casemiro's presence at the base of midfield.
Brazil will miss Casemiro's presence at the base of midfield.Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

The 26-year-old's suspension will leave the Selecao just vulnerable enough to allow Belgium to get on the scoresheet, before Neymar and Co. settle the tie late on.

Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Belgium