Since taking over as coach of the Belgian national team two years ago, Roberto Martinez has kept the focus on preparing for the next win rather than celebrating the previous one.
He briefly broke from that approach Friday after beating Brazil 2-1 in a World Cup quarterfinal in Kazan, a win that lifted Belgium into the tournament’s final four for the first time in 32 years.
It was a victory, Martinez admitted, that deserved to be savored.
“This is beating Brazil in the World Cup, in the knockout [stage],” he said. “Just treasure it and pass it down in the generations.”
There was more to it than that.
It was a win over a Brazil team that had posted eight shutouts in its last nine games, including three in the four games in Russia. And one that hadn’t trailed in a match since March 2017.
Yet Belgium needed only 13 minutes to end both those streaks, taking the lead on an own goal from Fernandinho.
It was a win over a Brazil team that had given up only four shots on goal in the tournament. But by the time Belgium got its first Friday it led 2-0, scoring on Kevin De Bruyne’s right-footed laser from outside the box.
“They were incredible; incredible heart out there,” Martinez said of this team. “Sometimes you have to accept that Brazil has got this finesse, that quality that they’re going to break you down. They didn’t accept it.
“They didn’t think for one minute that they were going to give up. And this is something special. These boys deserve to be real special people back in Belgium. I hope that everyone in Belgium is very, very proud.”
Still things might have gone differently had Brazil been a bit luckier in the seventh minute when Thiago Silva came within inches of a goal after a teammate’s glancing header from a corner deflected onto his thigh, then rebounded onto the post before being cleaned up by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Six minutes later Belgium went in front to stay on a massive blunder from Fernandinho, who tried to clear a corner but mishit his header and sent the ball into his own net instead.
De Bruyne, Fernandinho’s club teammate at Manchester City, then doubled the lead on a breakaway, receiving the ball from Romelu Lukaku wide on the right and driving a hard shot into the net in the bottom left corner.
Brazil halved the lead in the 76th minute when Renato Augusto, a second-half substitute, headed in a well-placed cross from Philippe Coutinho. But despite outshooting Belgium 26-8, Brazil could get no closer.
Much of the credit for that goes to Courtois, who finished with eight saves.
“This was the biggest test for us,” De Bruyne said. “Brazil was so strong in attack.”
Now Belgium, unbeaten in its last 24 matches, moves on to meet France in next week’s semifinals of what has now become an all-European championship. Another win would take Belgium somewhere it has never been: in a World Cup final.
To get there will require renewed focus, said Martinez, who finished savoring the Brazil victory and began looking ahead before his brief postgame news conference had ended.
“Now we need more energy for the next game,” he said. “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.”