vs. Location: Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russian Federation Brazil roster: Goleiros: Alisson (Roma) Cássio (Corinthians) Ederson (Manchester City) Laterais: Danilo (Manchester City) Filipe Luís (Atlético de Madrid) Marcelo (Real Madrid) Fagner (Corinthians) Zagueiros: Marquinhos (PSG) Miranda (Inter de Milão) Thiago Silva (PSG) Geromel (Grêmio) Meio-campistas: Casemiro (Real Madrid) Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan) Fernandinho (Manchester City) Paulinho (Barcelona) Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona) Willian (Chelsea) Fred (Shakhtar) Atacantes: Neymar (PSG) Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) Douglas Costa (Juventus) Taison (Shakhtar) Having reached the World Cup quarterfinals for the 7th straight World Cup since 1994 courtesy of its 2-0 victory over Mexico, Brazil attempts to go from the elite eight to the final four of the 2018 World Cup to face what is likely to be its most difficult test until now: Belgium. Belgium has raised eyebrows in this competition with its physically strong and agile players who manhandled Panama and Tunisia before eking out a 1-0 win over England. But Belgium’s dramatic 3-2 win over upstart Japan after the Japanese built a 0-2 lead in the second half of their round of 16 match have now led many to believe that however strong and talented this Belgian side, that it is by no means a team Brazil cannot defeat. Belgium qualified for Russia by wreaking havoc in UEFA’s Group H. With 9 wins and 1 draw, Belgium finished with a nearly perfect 28 points, 43 goals scored, and 6 allowed. Many detractors point to the brittle opposition in Group H: Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Gibraltar, and Cyprus. But Belgium steps to the Kazan pitch vs. Brazil with a 23-game unbeaten streak, with the last defeat having come at the hands of Spain in a mid-2016 friendly. In 2018 alone, like Brazil, Belgium played 4 friendlies before the World Cup, with a 4-0 rout of Saudi Arabia, a 0-0 with Portugal, a 3-0 win over Egypt, and a 4-1 win over Costa Rica, in 4 games played at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels. In the 2016 European Championship, Belgium finished second in Group E, with a 0-2 defeat to Italy, a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland, and a 1-0 win over Sweden. Belgium then obliterated Hungary 4-0 before being surprisingly defeated by Wales 1-3 after Radja Nainggolan scored the first goal of the match. Nainggolan’s retirement may cost the Belgians, as the well-rounded and skilled midfielder provided both defensive and offensive support. But Brazil too will be undermanned through the absence of one of its own midfielders as Casemiro, a pillar and a rock for Brazil in this World Cup, will be unavailable due to a suspension. Brazil’s full-backs will have their hands with the very physically intimidating, 6’3” Romelu Lukaku, who scored 3 goals for his country in this World Cup; however, as Japan learned, Belgium also has other options. Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, and Eden Hazard – all Premiership mainstays at Manchester City, Manchester United (like Lukaku), and Chelsea – bring fearsome attacking possibilities for the Belgians. Belgium deployed a 3-4-3 against Japan which switched to a formation with 4 full-backs when the Japanese had the football. Some say that Belgium, fresh from the near trauma of almost being eliminated by Japan, will approach the Brazil match more conservatively and attentively, starting with a variation of the 4-4-2. Brazil and Belgium have played very few times; Brazil occasionally schedules friendlies against European powerhouses such as Germany, England, and even Italy and France; but, with Belgium, the story is different. Before the 2002 World Cup round of 16 match won by Brazil 2-0, the last meeting between the two occurred in Antwerp in a 1988 friendly won by Brazil 1-2 (Brazil’s goals were scored by Geovani – Geovani Faria da Silva, who was one of the biggest Vasco names in the 1980s before the rise of Romário), with Leo Clijsters scoring for Belgium. The last match before then required another time warp to 1965, when as we know Brazil was the defending two-time World Cup champion and Brazil blasted Belgium 5-0 in Rio with a hat trick by Pelé and Flávio and Rinaldo scoring one each. However, the first-ever match between these teams brings bad memories to Brazilians: a 5-1 goleada by Belgium in Brussels in 1963, with a hat-trick by Jacques "Jacky" Stockman, who played his entire career in Belgium. This defeat followed a few defeats by Brazil in the South American Championship (Copa América) and Copa Roca, some with the “full” team and some with players who hadn’t been in the 1962 World Cup – and should have served as warning that Europe was developing new tactics. Poor organization by CBD (the old CBF) ignored this and 1966 was a disaster for Brazil. Incidentally, Belgium did not quality for 1966, but it did return for 1970, when it was eliminated in the group stage. With Neymar at full strength and Brazil having played an overall solid, self-controlled, tactically disciplined, and attentive game against Mexico, and with Tite thus far displaying wisdom in his substitutions, Brazil does have the manpower and the skill to defeat this good Belgian team Japan’s courage and sound fundamentals held Belgium to a 0-0 in the first half and with a bit of “jeitinho brasileiro,” Japan would have secured the 0-2 lead enough not to let Belgium get back in the game. Belgium knows Brazil is superior to Japan and will likely be as careful as it can, but if Japan exploited Belgium’s defense twice, it’s unlikely Brazil won’t do it at least once – if not more. The following was Belgium's starting XI vs. Japan on July 2, 2018: Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany and Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel and Carrasco (Chadli); Mertens (Fellaini), Lukaku and Hazard. Manager: Roberto Martinez.