KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Fernandinho has been Brazil’s supporting actor off the bench at the World Cup but is set for a bigger role in Friday’s quarter-final against Belgium when he will face off against his brilliant Manchester City team mate Kevin De Bruyne.
A linchpin of City’s Premier League triumph, the 33-year-old Fernandinho is expected to replace the suspended Casemiro in Tite’s starting side after the holding midfielder drew a second yellow card in the win over Mexico.
Casemiro has been a central plank of Brazil’s stingy defence, which has conceded only one goal so far in Russia. But Fernandinho is hardly going in cold after being used in all four of the Selecao’s matches.
“(Casemiro) and Fernandinho are similar, they both mark very well,” Brazil forward Willian said.
“Of course Casemiro is a very important player for us, and it’s complicated missing a game like this. But we have other quality players to fill in when he is absent.”
Invariably the link-man for De Bruyne at City, Fernandinho will look to quell the 27-year-old’s influence at the Kazan Arena. His knowledge of his club mate could prove hugely beneficial as Tite looks to starve Belgium’s formidable attack of supply.
The match-up is one of several intriguing intra-club duels, with Belgium centre back Vincent Kompany to keep close tabs on 21-year-old City club mate and Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus.
Belgium full back Thomas Meunier may also have his hands full dealing with Brazil ace Neymar, who he shares a changing room with at Paris St Germain.
For Fernandinho, the match will offer a chance to banish the demons from his last starting appearance at a World Cup - the 7-1 humiliation to eventual champions Germany in the 2014 semi-finals on home soil.
The Belgium clash will be Brazil’s first in a World Cup knockout round against a strong European opponent since that meltdown against Germany, which left the host nation stunned.
Fernandinho was slated as one of the team’s worst performers in that game, which ended a number of Brazil players’ careers.
But he returned to the venue for the team’s 3-0 win over Argentina in 2016 during qualifying for Russia, and completely nullified Lionel Messi.
Since then he has been a key member of the Tite squad that sailed through qualifying and is among a band of unsung heroes that have helped Brazil’s campaign keep ticking along in Russia, even as Neymar’s mix of brilliance and histrionics have hogged the headlines.
Brazil fans will hope Fernandinho can continue the hard work and have the last laugh over his City team mates to boost his team’s hopes of a record-extending sixth World Cup.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Hugh Lawson