At the end, they were a picture of devastation – Neymar down on his haunches sprawled out on the turf and Fernandinho flat on his back, staring into the black night sky after their nation’s third quarter final loss in four years.
The despair is understandable because what they discovered on Friday night is that new nations are coming to the table, developing players and systems to beat the so-called old guard.
Belgium out-thought and out-played Brazil for 75 minutes of a quite breathless quarter final – delivering such an impeccable display of counter-attacking football that Tite’s side could not, despite everything, find a way back.
Belgium defender Vincent Kompany runs to celebrate their opening goal of the game, but is not credited with the strike
The Belgium players celebrate together after they take a one-goal lead against Brazil in their World Cup quarter-final clash
Kevin De Bruyne shoots at goal and double’s Belgium’s lead as he finds the bottom corner of the net with a fierce strike
Belgium’s No 7 performs a knee-slide as he celebrates what is likely to be one of the best goals at this summer’s World Cup
Belgium players celebrate as they confirm their place in the semi-finals of the World Cup after a well-earned victory
Belgium captain Eden Hazard falls to his knees in celebration as the referee blows the final whistle to confirm their victory
Neymar hides his face inside his shirt after Brazil are sent packing from the World Cup by Belgium at the quarter-final stage
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
BRAZIL (4-3-3): Alisson 6; Fagner 5.5, T Silva 6, Miranda 5.5, Marcelo 7; Coutinho 7, Fernandinho 4.5, Paulinho 6 (Augusto 7); Neymar 6, Jesus 5.5 (Costa 58) Willian 6 (Firmino 46).
Subs not used: Cassio, Pedro Geromel, Filipe Luis, Marquinhos, Fred, Taison, Ederson.
Goals: Augusto 73
Booked: Fernandinho, Fagner
BELGIUM (3-4-3): Courtois 7.5, Alderweireld 6.5, Kompany 6, Vertonghen 8; Meunier 7.5, Fellaini 7, Witsel 6.5, Chadli 7 (Vermaelen 83); Lukaku 6.5 (Tielemans 87), De Bruyne 8.5, E Hazard 6.5.
Subs not used: Mignolet, Carrasco, Mertens, T Hazard, Januzaj, Dembele, Boyata, Batshuayi, Dendoncker, Casteels.
Goals: Fernandino 13 (OG), De Bruyne 31
Booked: Alderweireld, Meunier
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
The Brazilian team walked into the place with regulation green back-packs, looking like a group on some kind of commando mission, though things didn’t start well. Marcelo got lost on his way to the dressing room. Casemiro was denied entry to the stadium because he had forgotten his accreditation. The effect was very similar out on the pitch.
They began well enough, exposing a weakness to the set-piece for which Belgium looked like they might pay a very heavy price. The game wasn’t even ten minutes old when Miranda flicked on a corner from Neymar and Thiago Silva directed it onto the left upright with his right knee and Paulinho, unmarked, received another corner but could not find any power.
But Belgium were set up to deal with that lethal axis formed by Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and the overlapping Marcelo down Brazil’s right, which flickered intermittently into life in the game’s first 15 minutes. The usual back three became a four as soon as they fell out of possession, with Thomas Meunier dropping back. As Martinez’s players found composure, so they located the counter-attacking weapon they come here intent on releasing.
The suspension of Casemiro – the granite-like presence in front of the Brazilian defence – had seemed beforehand to create a chink of light for the Belgians. That was certainly how it transpired as the breathtaking pace and vision of Kevin de Bruyne, with Romelu Lukaku and, gradually, Eden Hazard, blew a hole through heart of their side.
There was a vulnerability about Casemiro ’s replacement, Fernandino, from the game’s second minute when de Bruyne won a contest with him and drove a shot narrowly wide.
His belief was further shredded inside 13 minutes when Nacer Chadli’s inswinging corner shaved the top of Vincent Kompany’s head and was diverted in off the Manchester City midfielder’s shoulder.
Looking to draw level, Brazil created space in behind and Belgium had them precisely where they wanted. Lukaku’s contribution had been erratic for the first half hour but when he is allowed to gather the ball and charge with it, he is monumental.
Replays show the ball deflected off the arm of Kompany’s club team-mate Fernandinho and is given as an own goal
Brazil goalkeeper Alisson falls to the ground as he fails to save the ball from going into Brazil’s net to give Belgium the lead
Philippe Coutinho (No 11) and Marcelo (No 12) can only watch as the ball flies towards the Brazil goal destined for the net
Brazil goalkeeper Alisson watches as he fails to save the shot from De Bruyne, which nestles in the corner of the net
Belgium’s No 7 points to the sky as he finishes his celebration following the goal that gave them a two-goal lead in the match
Neymar wipes the sweat from his face as he waits for the match to restart after his Brazil side fall two goals down to Belgium
The game was just over half an hour old when he seized possession in front of his own penalty area, stormed beyond Fernandinho and drove a ball out right to De Bruyne. Allowed time to stop and take aim by Marcelo, he deipatched the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
Marouane Fellaini added steel at the back of the Belgium side and Jan Vertonghen contributed to Belgium’s fierce defensive resolve. For Brazil, there was no way through. Neymar was a marginal presence. Gabriel Jesus skewed a headed chance he was presented with. Coutinho was reduced to taking aim from distance.
Brazil’s Tite went all out for salvation and to turn back the weight of history. Never, on 130 previous occasions of a team being two goals down at half-time in a World Cup match, had that team come back to win. Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino was sent into a 4-2-4 formation.
Belgium did not yield, though there was an element of fortune in that. Brazil seemed justified in their demands for a penalty after Jesus nutmegged Vertonghen and seemed to be clattered by Kompany. VAR ruled that the ball had already run out of play. Jesus made way for Douglas Costa on the hour but Thibaut Courtois leapt to save to his right from him, too.
Renato Augusto of Brazil guides a header into the Belgium net to pull his side back within a goal with 15 minutes left to play
Augusto celebrates while Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois asks questions of the Belgium defence following Brazil’s goal
Augusto rushes the ball back to the centre circle so Belgium can restart the can as Brazil look to mount an historic comeback
Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini clashes with Brazil forward Neymar in the centre of the pitch early in the tie
Referee Milorad Mazic gives Fellaini a talking to while Neymar remains on the floor clutching his head in the centre circle
Brazil’s Neymar attempts to win his side a penalty by making the most of a very slight contact from Fellaini in the Belgium box
Fellaini confronts the Paris Saint-Germain forward over his attempts to con the referee with an act of simulation
Referee Milorad Mazic speaks to Neymar of Brazil after he dives inside the penalty area but escapes a yellow card
For pure, individual attacking talent, Belgium continued to deliver what generations have come to expect of Brazil. In the blink of an eye, they cleared two thirds of the field and almost scored again. Chadli dispossessed Fernandino on the Brazil right and found De Bruyne, who flashed a left foot shot inches wide.
As Brazil drove on and on, looking for a foothold in the game, it looked to be a question of whether the Belgians could on. With 15 minutes to run they were tiring, Fellaini and the defenders were struggling to find the same competitive intent which had put them on the brink of this victory.
Brazil’s attacking menace all came through Coutinho who was given a fraction of space on 767 minutes which allowed him to deliver the cross for which substitute Renato Augusto leapt, this time leaving Kompany and Alderweireld standing, to direct home a header.
Then, the two chances which will be haunting Brazil today. Augusto ran through on goal, fed by Coutinho, and blasted wide. Coutinho ran in himself, fed by Neymar, and did the same. Still they seek a route to the top of the world.
Belgium defender Kompany dives in on his Manchester City team-mate Gabriel Jesus in an attempt to stop a dangerous attack
The Belgium No 4 appears to catch Brazil’s striker on the ankle as he fails to win the ball on the edge of the six-yard box
The tackle sends Brazil’s No 9 flying into the air and crashing to the ground while Kompany is quick to protest his innocence
Brazil players call for a penalty to be given, but the match referee eventually gives Belgium a goal kick after consulting VAR
Courtois makes a stunning save to deny Brazil star Neymar in the 94th minute of the match and keep Belgium in front
The two teams line up in front of a sold-out Kazan Arena as the World Cup quarter-final gets underway on Friday evening