Kazan, Russia • Belgium reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 32 years by holding off five-time champion Brazil 2-1 Friday, sending Neymar home without living up to the expectations of being soccer’s most expensive player.
Belgium scored the decisive goal on a counterattack just after a corner had been taken by Neymar. Romelu Lukaku surged forward with the ball and Kevin De Bruyne put it in the net to give Belgium a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.
“This was the biggest test for us,” De Bruyne said. “Brazil was so strong in attack.”
The opener came after a bit of good fortune. Fernandinho’s trailing arm inadvertently helped Belgium captain Vincent Kompany’s header land in his own net in the 13th minute.
As Belgium lost cohesiveness in the second half and Brazil’s changes stirred the team, substitute Renato Augusto reduced the deficit in the 76th with a header.
But it was too late for Brazil to muster an equalizer as efforts to force the game into extra time were thwarted by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
For the third time in a World Cup — after 1982 and 2006 — the semifinals will feature only European teams. Belgium and France will meet in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The next day in Moscow, it will be either England or Sweden against either Russia or Croatia. The other two quarterfinal matches will be played Sunday.
Humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals fours year ago on home soil, Brazil didn’t even get that far this time. Just like defending champion Germany and Argentina before them, the Kazan Arena is where Brazil’s World Cup challenge ended.
“This is beating Brazil in the World Cup, in the knockout,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. “Just treasure it and pass it down in the generations.”
Belgium is now on a 24-match unbeaten streak.
There is guaranteed to be a fourth straight European team winning the World Cup on July 15 in Moscow. Belgium, which finished fourth at the 1986 tournament and has never won the European Championship, will hope its golden generation can deliver its first trophy.
“Now we need more energy for the next game,” Martinez said, “so let’s make sure that we’re all together and we’re all driving each other to be as good as we can ... in the semifinal.”
With eight shutouts in the last nine games, including three in the four games in Russia, Brazil had the tightest defense of the remaining teams at the World Cup. But it was breached after 13 minutes in Tatarstan. Fernandinho’s own-goal ensured for the first time since March 2017 that Brazil was trailing in a competitive match. Unlike then — an eventual 4-1 victory over Uruguay — there was no comeback.
Not when Courtois was proving to be an impenetrable barrier in the Belgium goal, denying Marcelo’s strike before the lead was extended.
Criticized for his playacting, Neymar then went down lightly under minimal contact from Marouane Fellaini at the start of the second half. But as the referee started to seek a video review, Neymar appeared to urge him against it. A booking — if he got one for diving — would have ruled him out the semifinals.
But reaching the last four looked an increasingly unlikely proposition. Even after Philippe Coutinho’s cross was headed in by Augusto, who managed to evade center backs Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen three minutes after replacing Paulinho.
“Sometimes you have to accept that Brazil has got this finesse, that quality, and that they’re going to break you down, and (Belgium) just refused to accept that. This is something special.”
France takes total control in beating Uruguay
Nizhny Novogorod, Russia • A shot that flew directly at the hands of the opposing goalkeeper turned into a World Cup goal for Antoine Griezmann.
The France striker scored the second goal in his team’s 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Uruguay on Friday, sending a seemingly easy-to-save shot at a waiting Fernando Muslera. But the ball hit the keeper on the palms, bounced off and looped over his head and into the net.
The victory gave France a spot in the World Cup semifinals. The 1998 champions will next face Belgium on Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
Griezmann didn’t celebrate what was his third goal of the tournament.
“I was playing against a lot of friends,” said Griezmann, who is teammates with Uruguay defenders Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez at Atletico Madrid, “so I think it was normal not to celebrate.”
Raphael Varane gave France the lead with a header in the 40th minute. Griezmann sent in a free kick from the right side and Varane raced across the area. He got his head to the ball and sent it into the far corner behind Muslera.
Griezmann scored his goal, which was similar to the one scored by Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale against Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius in the Champions League final, in the 61st minute.
“We all saw that it was not a very common goal, but Muslera has been a very important pillar for all this process and through all our work on our way up to here, so I’m not going to wash my hands putting any responsibility on my players,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. “This is the kind of thing that I will discuss with the players in the locker room.”
Griezmann is a Frenchman who plays professionally in Spain, but he has a special fondness for Uruguay. He likes the traditional South American drink mate, he speaks Spanish like someone from the South American country and he’s been pictured wearing the team’s jersey.
Godin, who was playing for Uruguay on Friday, is also the godfather of Griezmann’s daughter.
“I love Uruguayan culture and I love Uruguayans, so I have a lot of respect for them,” Griezmann said.
France went on to reach the World Cup final the last two times it advanced to the semifinals. They won their only World Cup in 1998 on home soil, and in 2006 lost to Italy on penalties.
The match at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium pitted France’s speed against Uruguay’s stubborn defense and its occasional attacking threats. But with Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani injured and on the bench and Luis Suarez neutralized, it was France that scored the goals.
Suarez, who scored two goals in the group stage, didn’t get a single touch on the ball in France’s penalty area for the entire match. Cavani scored both goals in the 2-0 win over Portugal in the round of 16, but he sat on the bench with an injured left calf he picked up in that match.
Four minutes after Varane gave France the lead, Uruguay nearly equalized. France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris dived to his right and got a hand on a header from Martin Caceres, pushing it just wide of the goal.
“Lloris had a great save,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “Apart from that, they didn’t have many great opportunities.”