MOSCOW: Favourites Brazil and Neymar take on a talented Belgium side in the World Cup semi-finals on Friday while an exciting young France team led by emerging superstar Kylian Mbappe must pass a tough test against Uruguay.
As the World Cup bursts back into life with the first two quarter-finals, Brazil are aiming to continue on the path towards winning a record-extending sixth World Cup at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on July 15.
But first, Neymar and his star-studded supporting cast have to get past Belgium, who boast an array of their own firepower, to reach the last four.
In a Kazan Arena expected to be awash with yellow-clad Brazil fans, Belgian trio Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have a chance to prove they can cut it at the highest international level after so many disappointments.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez ancknowledged the gulf in World Cup pedigree between his side and Brazil.
“They know how to win World Cups, they’ve done it more than any other nation so they have that psychological barrier out of the way,” the Spaniard said.
“Of course we want to win and we’re going to try to win. The most important aspect tomorrow is our chance to play in the quarter-final.
“We want to enjoy our game.”
Brazil coach Tite said he was desperate to win without resorting to the “horror” of penalties after three of the last-16 ties were settled by spot-kicks.
“A football match should never be settled with the horror of penalties. I don’t see that as a valid result,” Tite told a packed press conference on Thursday. “For me, there has to be another way.”
Brazil made a slow start in Russia but hit their stride with an impressive performance to shut down Mexico in the last round, even though Neymar was roundly criticised for once again play-acting at the merest contact from an opponent.
“If I seem more relaxed, it’s because the players have put me in this position by playing better,” said Tite.