Some defeats take time to produce a fit explanation. Within the first fifteen minutes after the Brazil 1-2 Belgium match, I wrote an article in Portuguese in which chance, especially Fernandinho’s own goal in the 13th minute, was determinant to the whole outcome of the match, notwithstanding the clever moves of Belgium’s coach, Roberto Martínez. By deploying Kevin De Bruyne in a central position in his offensive line, with Lukaku and Hazard menacing Marcelo and Fágner respectively, he found a way to stop the Brazilian build-up, which is usually concentrated on the flanks.
But that opinion seemed lame to many. The tide of counter-opinions came strong and fierce to maintain that Tite was the one to blame, being tamed in a tactical knot. He was stubborn with keeping Gabriel Jesus on the field, and took too much time to make substitutions that could neutralize the danger that came from the inside. Had Tite managed it well, they say, De Bruyne’s second goal would not have happened so easily, and Brazil could have had a chance.
Maybe. I am not convinced by this reasoning, and the random aspects of the game, especially those that happened in the first 15 minutes of the quarterfinal, still resonate with me. It’s like giving too much credit to a vague hypothesis and not considering how bad luck concretely stroked us.
An own goal is the proper materialization of such bad luck, even though Kompany won the first aerial ball. An own goal scored by Fernandinho, a player who went to hell and back after Germany’s 7-1 in the same situation – replacing a suspended player – is way harder, not to mention it happened some minutes after Thiago Silva hit the post from a corner kick.
It seemed cruel when we looked at him, a classy midfielder in that killer unit known by the name of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, chasing Lukaku as a motherless child, before KDB scored with a whipping kick. A sure leader on Twelve’s error stats, against the Belgian engine who owned the match.
Moreover, Tite might have taken some time to make the changes needed, but he found them in time to find a goal with Renato Augusto, and we almost got the equalizer with Philippe Coutinho (in his worst day in the tournament), Renato Augusto again and Neymar, who forced Courtois to operate one of the most thrilling saves of the entire World Cup.
Brazil dominated the second half, with Alisson being barely disturbed. The tactical knot, in my eyes, was fully disentangled, as Lukaku totally submitted to Miranda’s authority, and Belgium were resigned to defend their box. By that time, Brazil were superior and threatening. It was not one of those matches when, by the 75th minute, you know everything is done and gone, and hardly one where a bunch of players were trying to score moved only by despair and anxiety.
But Brazil had flaws. It was a poor match for Paulinho, and Coutinho lacked glow, even though he never omitted himself from playmaking. And yet he found a way to assist Renato Augusto scoring. With Meunier and Lukaku on his side, Marcelo was never the source of danger that he is for Real Madrid either.
In spite of that, both of them were below only De Bruyne in Twelve’s leaderboard. And there is Neymar, who often failed in his dribbling efforts and sometimes poor decision making. Yet he appears in Twelve’s overall podium of attacking stats, along with #1 Coutinho and #2 Marcelo. As we said before, Brazil was really close to tie the match.
But sometimes we fall, because football is about controlling the aspects you can and diminishing the random ones. Belgium did that and, in their finest hour, a lucky strike helped a lot. The Old Romans used to say “Fortuna audaces juvat”, meaning the goddess of Fortune gives a hand to those who dare. Martínez can explain that better than me, and his merit was to believe he could use Lukaku and Hazard to storm the Brazilian wings as Tite never expected. Fernandinho’s own goal just served as the good omen he deserved for daring, as a strong team always should.