Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe moved to Paris in the summer of 2017 for world record transfer fees as Qatar state-backed club, Paris Saint-Germain, broke the bank to add two superstars to their squad. Playing alongside each other they have risen to new heights of stardom and have underlined their status as heirs to the throne of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as stars for the future.
On Friday, they will take the field for their respective national teams with spotlight fixed on them firmly for different reasons. France will face Uruguay in the first quarter-final at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod, while Brazil will take on golden generation of Belgium at Kazan Arena in Kazan.
Mbappe on song
Still just 19, Mbappe has been in sensational for his club and country in past two seasons, including the one with AS Monaco. Playing his first World Cup, the boy who came from the suburban Paris has shown that he is just as much ready for the big stage as any other seasoned footballer.
In the Round of 16 match against Argentina, he scored twice in four minutes with his searing pace to hog the limelight as none other than Leo Messi was sent packing home.
In the quarter-final against Uruguay, there will be far too many friendships on the line as players from both sides are team-mates playing for their clubs.
Mbappe himself will be praying that his strike partner from Uruguay, Edinson Cavani, will be fit to play the game after suffering an injury against Portugal. Although it would mean more headache for French defender Samuel Umtiti who will have to keep an eye on PSG man along with his Barcelona mate Luis Suarez.
Antoine Griezmann must have shared a secret or two about Uruguay defenders Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez with Mbappe as the French youngster faces one of the best defenders in the world on Friday night.
Godin and Griezmann too will have to keep their friendship and Godin’s relation as a godfather to Griezmann’s daughter, back in the locker room for a matter of 90 or 120 minutes while they look to take their country to the semi-final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
It will be a game between two unbeaten teams so far in the competition, with a rock-solid defence and lethal forwards as mates from club and country go head to head. All eyes will be on Mbappe of course, as he looks to shine brightly alongside some of the big names of World football.
Which Neymar we will see against Belgium?
The 26-year-old Brazilian’s dazzling performance against Mexico was overshadowed by his theatrics in the same match as the Brazil superstar was on the receiving end of some backlash from fans and pundits. But, come Friday Tite would be hoping that his No. 10 would be able to ignore all noise in the background and puts on another show against Belgium, their sternest test in the World Cup so far.
The bookmakers have put their bets on Brazil to win their record sixth World Cup in Russia. The golden generation of Belgium stands in their way in place for the semi-finals.
Brazil has so far let in just one goal and their custodian Alisson has had only five shots on goal, making them the meanest defence in the tournament, which will be bolstered by the return of Marcelo from injury.
But, the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku Dries Mertens are set to cause Brazilian backline some problems.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez would have to come up with a plan to tame the Samba boys keeping in mind that his two defenders - Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen are on the wrong side of 30 and Brazil has more pace than them. It was his substitutions - Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli changed the game against Japan and turned the tie in their favour.
If De Bruyne is the heartbeat of Red Devils, Philippe Coutinho is the engine that keeps Seleçao running as the midfield battle between the two will decide the outcome of the game. Coutinho so far has provided ample ammunition going forward to the likes of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus and Willian.
Men from Paris
Come Friday, despite the abundance of talent on each side, again all the eyes will be fixed on two men from Paris-Kylian Mbappe and Neymar-as they will look to prove to the World once again that they are the men for the future, two superstars, two boys from Paris ready to be two men from Paris.
France v Uruguay
Where: Nizhny Novgorod
These two sides have met three times previously at the World Cup. In their first meeting, a group game in 1966, Uruguay won 2-1 but the subsequent encounters ended goalless. There have also been a further two goalless draws in friendlies and the last meeting between the two countries was a 1-0 win for Uruguay.
Brazil v Belgium
Where: Kazan Arena
Brazil and Belgium have played each other four times. Brazil has won three of the clashes, including the most recent in the Round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup. Belgium won the first, a friendly, 5-1 in 1963.
‘De Bruyne essential for Belgium’s World Cup chances’
Kevin De Bruyne has developed into a “leader” for Belgium and is “essential” to their World Cup chances, says coach Roberto Martinez. Manchester City star De Bruyne is yet to score at the World Cup but played a key part in Belgium’s last-gasp winner against Japan in the round of 16, the Red Devils coming from two goals down to win 3-2.
Martinez hailed the playmaker’s ability to stay cool under pressure ahead of the quarter-final against Brazil in Kazan.
“His role in our team has been underrated. Maybe because at club level he’s always at the end of an assist or at the end of a goal and then it’s easy to bring a highlight out of Kevin De Bruyne.”
“I think Kevin De Bruyne’s influence in our team has been a lot deeper, a little bit more earlier, allowing his team to have the influence that we have in the final third and being a real playmaker for us. And then on top of that he’s become a leader. “I think it’s the first time that I’ve seen Kevin growing into a very important player of this group on the pitch in the most important moments.
Belgium pin hopes on mercurial talent of Hazard
Eden Hazard leads his team into Friday’s World Cup quarter-final match against Brazil on a stage built to showcase his talent but whether Belgium get the full benefit of his mercurial ability is to be seen.
Hazard is undoubtedly one of the stars of the tournament in Russia and at 27-years-old, wearing the captain’s armband, at the peak of his powers.
But there is always a nagging doubt that when the going gets tough, the attacking midfielder might once again prove anonymous.
It happened at the last World Cup in Brazil and two years ago at the European Championship when Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ stood on the brink of delivering on their potential but then imploded.
In the 2014 quarter-final against Argentina he drifted out of the game and was replaced after 75 ineffective minutes as Lionel Messi won their head-to-head in a 1-0 Argentina victory.
Miranda named Brazil captain for Belgium clash
Brazil will face Belgium in the quarter-finals of 2018 FIFA World Cup in Kazan with Miranda being named captain for the match.
Brazil coach Tite has stuck with his policy of rotating the captaincy and the 33-year old Inter Milan player will become the fourth man to wear the captain’s armband in Russia.
Belgium’s national team trained on Wednesday at the team’s base camp in the Guchkovo sport complex near Moscow, ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match against Brazil.
Once again, David Lucca da Silva Santos, son of star forward Neymar Jr, watched from the sidelines of the practice ground at Brazil’s World Cup headquarters
At six years old, his youth means he is not likely to play any role against Belgium in the quarterfinal match at the Kazan Arena on Friday.
Neymar has spent 14 minutes of the World Cup on the ground
Brazil superstar Neymar might be the most-fouled player in the World Cup but figures revealed on Thursday show just how much he is milking every point of contact. As players, pundits and fans alike fume at the antics of the 26-year-old, rolling around and writhing in agony, it has emerged that Neymar has spent a staggering 13 minutes 50 seconds on the ground. Fouled 23 times in four matches so far, that means Neymar spends almost 30 seconds ‘recovering’ from every knock.
The claim has been made by RTS after Neymar was the centre of attention for both the right and unfortunately, wrong reasons, during his country’s 2-0 defeat of Mexico in the last 16 clash.
He scored a goal and claimed an assist but spoiled his Man of the Match performance when Mexico’s full-back, Miguel Layun, gently stepped on the Brazilian’s ankle on Sunday.