Belgium produced a brilliant performance to knock five-time winners Brazil out of the World Cup and reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1986.
Roberto Martinez’s side turned on the style in Kazan to clock up their fifth straight win of the tournament and ensure the semi-finals will be contested by four European sides for the first time since 2006.
Brazil had conceded just one goal in their past four games in Russia but were behind early when Nacer Chadli’s corner struck Fernandinho’s arm and flew into the net, the 10th own goal of this World Cup.
Fernandinho’s Manchester City team-mate Kevin de Bruyne doubled Belgium’s lead with a sublime arrowed finish from 20 yards after Romelu Lukaku’s powerful run.
In an entertaining and open game, Brazil hit the post when the match was goalless – Thiago Silva missing in front of a gaping net after Neymar’s corner – before substitute Renato Augusto gave Brazil hope with a headed goal after Philippe Coutinho’s delicious pass.
However, the South Americans became the latest heavyweight to depart the competition after holders Germany and other past winners Argentina, Spain and Uruguay.
Impressive Belgium will now face France, 2-0 winners over Uruguay earlier on Friday, in a semi-final in St Petersburg next Tuesday, 10 July (19:00 BST).
The other semi-final in Moscow on Wednesday 11 July will be contested between the winners of Saturday’s quarter-finals featuring Sweden and England (15:00 BST) and Russia and Croatia (19:00 BST).
Golden generation finally comes of age
There were scenes of jubilation where Belgium’s fans were gathered after the match at the Kazan Arena.
Chadli posed for selfies and handed his shirt to a fan as Martinez’s team stayed out on the pitch to soak up the atmosphere long after the final whistle.
There is a steely determination about this Belgium side that they did not have four years ago when they narrowly lost a quarter-final to Argentina.
Eight of the starting 11 against Brazil also started that game in Brasilia in 2014 but this time there was no hard luck story as the Red Devils ruthlessly dispatched the most successful country in World Cup history.
Energy and belief is coursing through a Belgium team packed with Premier League winners, and many are starting to seriously ask whether this squad full of thirtysomethings is finally about to deliver.
If there was a touch of fortune about the first goal as the ball flew off Fernandinho’s arm and into the net, the second was beautifully crafted.
Lukaku has scored four times at this tournament but his run which led to De Bruyne making it 2-0 was a sight to behold, the striker receiving the ball inside his own half before turning and embarking on a superb run.
On a glorious night in Belgium football history, there was one negative as defender Thomas Meunier picked up another booking and will be suspended against France.
From Everton sack to World Cup semi-final
In May 2016, Martinez was out of a job after being sacked by Everton. A banner saying “Time to go Roberto” was flown over Goodison just days before his dismissal.
Now the Spaniard is one win away from steering Belgium to a first ever World Cup final.
In the last 16, Martinez made two key changes as his side came from 2-0 down against Japan to win 3-2 – substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Chadli scoring the second and third goals.
He promoted Fellaini and Chadli to the starting line-up against Brazil and both played their part in what will go down as a famous Belgium win as Martinez successfully changed his system, going narrower to deny Neymar and Philippe Coutinho space.
Belgium are unbeaten in 24 games under the 44-year-old since he lost his first game in charge against Spain in September 2016.
Tears as Brazil bow out
Thousands of Brazil fans had packed the Kazan Arena hoping to see their team take a huge step towards a first World Cup triumph since 2002.
At the end, some were in tears.
Brazil had arrived at the tournament full of optimism after Neymar was declared fit after recovering from a broken foot. They depart Russia unfulfilled, and with Neymar’s theatrics one of the talking points of the tournament.
When Neymar went down inside the Belgium penalty area in the second half of this game, he was told in no uncertain terms by referee Milorad Mazic to get back on his feet.
Brazil, who had an incredible 27 shots, might have enjoyed a different outcome but for an astonishing display by Thibaut Courtois.
The Belgium goalkeeper produced a string of excellent saves particularly towards the end as the South Americans pressed for an equaliser.
His finger-tip stop to keep out Neymar in the third minute of stoppage time was magnificent and added to Brazil’s frustration after they had been denied a penalty following Vincent Kompany’s challenge on Gabriel Jesus.
Brazil are a much changed team since their embarrassing 7-1 semi-final exit to Germany four years ago. Nevertheless, this was another painful exit.
Man of the match – Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Thibaut Courtois was exceptional as Brazil peppered his goal with 27 shots but the keeper held his nerve on a famous night for Belgium football
‘I’m the proudest man on earth’ – what they said
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez: “Brazil have so much finesse and you know that they can cut you open. But I didn’t think for one second that the players would give up.
“They’ve done something special and I hope everyone in Belgium is very, very proud. It has created a nice memory and we should treasure it. But now we need more energy for our next game to try to make sure we’re just as good in the semi-finals.
“I’m the proudest man on earth because I gave the players a very tough tactical assignment and the way they believed until the last second was incredible.”
Brazil boss Tite: “I thought it was a great match and we had a lot of it, with plenty of possession and a lot of opportunities. But Belgium were more effective in converting their opportunities.
“They have a lot of top players and finished well. Thibaut Courtois also made a real difference. For all the pain I feel right now, if you like football, you have to watch this game. It’s going to give you pleasure.
“I won’t talk about my future right now. After two weeks, the dust will settle and we’ll have a cool head to be able to discuss it better.”
Brazil succumb to European opposition again – the stats
- Brazil have now been eliminated by European sides in each of the last four editions of the World Cup (France 2006, Netherlands 2010, Germany 2014 and Belgium 2018).
- Belgium have reached the World Cup semi-finals for only the second time, losing out to eventual winners Argentina in 1986.
- This was the first time in 30 matches in all competitions that Brazil had conceded more than once in a game.
- Belgium’s victory was only their second ever against Brazil, and first since a 1963 friendly match in Brussels.
- Fernandinho became only the second player to score a World Cup own goal with Brazil, after Marcelo v Croatia in 2014.
- Belgium have had nine different goalscorers at the 2018 World Cup (excluding own goals). Only Italy in 2006 and France in 1982 (10 each) have ever had more in a single tournament.
- Renato Augusto scored just three minutes and 14 seconds after coming on as a sub. It was his first goal in 14 games for Brazil, since netting against Peru in November 2016.
- Kevin De Bruyne became the 100th different player to score at the 2018 World Cup (excluding own goals).
- Romelu Lukaku has been directly involved in 20 goals in his last 13 appearances for Belgium, scoring 17 and assisting three.