BELGIUM 1-0 RUSSIA
SUNDAY 22ND JUNE – RIO DE JANIERO
Potential dark horses Belgium have guaranteed their progression through the World Cup group stage after making it two wins in two games against a stubborn Russian side. Teenage substitute Divock Origi scored the only goal of the game in the closing minutes to settle the affair, but Marc Wilmots will be looking for much more from his side if they are to live up to their billing of potential winners.
Neither side showed many signs of creativity in the first half in the Maracana, but Napoli winger Dries Mertens produced some moments of quality for a frustrated set of fans. Bursting forwards down the right, he created Belgium’s best chance of the half but fired wide from the edge of the area. To add to the disappointment, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen limped off to be replaced at left-back by his Tottenham counterpart Jan Vertonghen.
Axel Witsel hit wide from range and Thibaut Courtois tipped an effort wide, but the best opening of the first 45 came just before the half-time whistle. Denis Glushakov delivered a fantastic ball in from the left and neither centre-half challenged Aleksandr Kokorin to the header, but he somehow contrived to nod it wide of Courtois’ left-hand post. With both teams struggling to find any penetration, it remained goalless at the interval.
Things did not get much better in the second half. Origi and Kevin Mirallas entered the fray at the expense of Romelu Lukaku and Mertens, but all too often there was no link-up play between the defence and attack, with long passes sailing harmlessly over the attackers. Substitute right-back Andrey Eshchenko found himself in space at the corner of the Belgian box but pulled his shot wide of the bottom corner, but although there were some chances from corners, a Russian victory would not have been deserved.
Eden Hazard made sure none was forthcoming, bursting into life in the last ten minutes. A good run from the Chelsea man resulted in Mirallas striking the post from a free kick, but Hazard would eventually have his victory. Bursting down the left wing, he spun past one defender before seeing his shot deflected away, but another run to the edge of the six-yard box saw him pull the ball back to the penalty spot. Origi, who shone in the group opener against Algeria, sidefooted the ball into the roof of the net to the relief of the thousands who had turned up in the expectation of an exciting team performance. With South Korea playing Algeria later, the result means that any of the three other teams could still follow the Red Devils into the next round.
BELGIUM: Courtois, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vermaelen (Vertonghen), Witsel, Fellaini, De Bruyne, Mertens (Mirallas 75), Hazard, Lukaku (Origi 57).
GOALS: Origi 88.
BOOKINGS: Witsel 54, Alderweireld 73.
RUSSIA: Akinfeev, Kozlov (Eshchenko 62), Ignashevich, Kanunnikov, Glushakov, Kokorin, Berezutskiy, Shatov (Dzagoev 83), Samedov (Kerzhakov 90), Fayzulin, Kombarov.
BOOKINGS: Glushakov 38.
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