Belgium edged past Portugal after a Thorgan Hazard stunner proved decisive, but they face an anxious wait to discover the extent of the injuries suffered by Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Man Utd talisman Bruno Fernandes was the surprise absentee from the Portugal teamsheet ahead of their Last 16 tie with Belgium. The playmaker hadn’t produced his best throughout the group stage, though his omission was nevertheless a major surprise.
Renato Sanches was the beneficiary in midfield, and immediately set about proving the decision right when teeing up Diogo Jota with a golden opportunity.
The Liverpool forward lacked composure at the crucial moment, however, pulling his left-footed strike comfortably wide in a major early let-off for the Belgians.
A stalemate soon descended onto the contest with the weight of the occasion blunting either side’s ambition.
It remained until the 25th minute when Cristiano Ronaldo took up his familiar pose while standing over a free-kick. The global icon’s shot was struck firm and true, and forced Rui Patricio to palm the ball straight back into the danger zone. Joao Palhinha reacted quickly to meet the ball in the air but his header lacked power.
With half-time approaching and the scores still deadlocked, Thorgan Hazard produced a moment of brilliance to set the occasion alight.
His swerving drive from distance caught Patricio going the other way before flying past his outstretched hand to make it 1-0.
⚠️ 𝐖𝐎𝐑𝐋𝐃𝐈𝐄 𝐀𝐋𝐄𝐑𝐓! ⚠️
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 27, 2021
Belgium were dealt a huge blow mere seconds after the break when playmaker-in-chief Kevin De Bruyne had to be replaced by Dries Mertens after rolling his ankle during a challenge from Palhinha.
Fernando Santos wasted little time in shuffling his pack, bringing on Fernandes and Joao Felix as he sought an immediate response.
Portugal appeared to be losing their heads as the clock began to tick away and their star-studded forward line failed to make an impression. Veteran centre-back Pepe picked up a yellow card for his troubles after felling Eden Hazard while in full flow.
A Fernandes corner offered a lifeline late on and was met by the onrushing Ruben Dias. His header was too central however, allowing Thibaut Courtois to beat the ball to safety. Raphaël Guerreiro then hit the post as Portugal laid siege to the Belgium box. With five minutes remaining, an onslaught was expected.
Captain Eden Hazard had run his blood to water throughout the contest, and the toll told in the 85th minute when pulling up and immediately holding his hamstring.
The game bounced from end to end in the final minutes as attack after attack gave way to counters, but neither goalkeeper would again be called into action as Belgium persevered in Seville.
Belgium’s reward is a trip to Munich to take on Italy in the quarter finals on July 2.