Two of the best left wingers in the world do battle in Kazan tonight, and the relative success they have is likely to have a huge say on the outcome of the World Cup’s standout quarter-final.
Brazil versus Belgium brings us Neymar against Eden Hazard, opposing inside-forwards who start on the left side but do damage drifting in from the touchline. These two have plenty of similarities in their style of play, yet they remain remarkably different in their approach.
Neymar is the egotist that his £200m move to become the centre of attention at PSG would suggest. In itself this isn’t necessarily a concern: when you have the talent Neymar boasts then why not try and do it on your own every once in a while? He has 11 goals in his last 19 matches for Brazil and two at the 2018 World Cup already, so he must be doing something right.
But he has had more shots than any other player in Russia, with 17 in his four games, and nine players have more goals than him. He has also attempted more dribbles than any other player, with 40, but only has one assist to his name so far. He makes so much happen, but should he be more of a team player?
On the opposite side today, Hazard is having as effective a tournament without seeing anywhere near as much of the ball. He has the same goal tally as Neymar having taken eight fewer shots. The Belgian also has one more assist than Neymar despite playing one game fewer.
None of this is to say that Hazard is the better player. Clearly, Neymar is one of the best on the planet, and his record at international level is frightening (57 goals in 89 caps). Opponents know it, too: there is a reason he is the most fouled player at the World Cup this summer.
Could he improve even the slightest bit by placing his full trust in his team-mates? It’s hard to say, but Hazard might show him the value of self-sacrifice tonight.
1: France have won just one of their last eight matches against Uruguay
3: Brazil have been knocked out of the World Cup by a European side in each of the last three tournaments (France 2006, Holland 2010, Germany 2014)
3: France’s Kylian Mbappe has scored three goals so far this tournament – he’s the first teenager to score this many in a World Cup campaign since Pele netted six for Brazil in 1958