KOREA REPUBLIC 0-1 BELGIUM
THURSDAY 26TH JUNE – SAO PAULO
Widely fancied Belgium marched through to the last 16 of the World Cup with a narrow win over South Korea. Marc Wilmots’ men preserved their 100% tournament record but didn’t have it all their own way in this encounter, with Korea proving more than a match for the Red Devils.
Belgium, who needed just a point to advance to the knockout stages, started strongly and some efficient passing saw Everton’s Kevin Mirallas, who replaced Romelu Lukaku upfront, cut the ball back but without sufficient support, there was no-one running in to provide the finishing touch.
After eight minutes Dries Mertens’ dangerous cross was cleared by Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-Gy but following this a rare spell of Korean possession in the final third culminated in Son running in behind Anthony Vanden Borre, however the winger couldn’t pick out a teammate.
Consistent with Belgium’s previous fixtures, Mertens again found himself at the heart of the Red Devils attack and could have given his team the lead on 24 minutes but fired over the bar.
After half an hour Chelsea’s highly-rated goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was called into action for the first time and saved well following Ki’s effort. South Korea maintained the pressure but Steven Defour cleared a well-directed corner.
The major talking point of the first period came on the stroke of half time. Belgium’s Steven Defour was rightfully sent off following a two-footed challenge over the ball, a tackle which could have had more serious consequences for the player on the receiving end. The FC Porto midfielder’s dismissal was Belgium’s first World Cup red card since 1998.
Belgium, having failed to register a single shot on target in the first half made a lacklustre start to the second period. Once again Courtois was one hand to prevent a potentially dangerous attack, diving at the feet of a Korean attacker, preventing a low cross. From the resulting corner Lee Yong-Pyo had the chance to hand his side an unlikely lead but headed over.
A spell of dangerous Belgium possession followed, but Marouane Fellaini was wasteful inside the box before Mertens saw his drive palmed away by Kim.
This sparked a change in the tempo and intensity of the game, with both sides crafting dangerous moves.
South Korea nearly took the lead in fortuitous circumstances on the hour. Son Heung-Min’s marauding run down the right ended in the midfielder’s misdirected cross hitting the crossbar, with Courtois relieved to see the ball bounce harmlessly wide.
With 72 minutes gone, substitute Nacer Chadli intercepted Ki’s misplaced pass out wide, but his powerful shot was deflected wide. The Spurs winger could have passed to a teammate inside the box but opted to shoot.
12 minutes from time Belgium took the lead. A quick counter-attack resulted in Fellaini running with the ball outside the box, but despite losing possession the ball was picked up by Lille striker Divick Origi, who fired a shot at goal from 20 yards. The effort was parried into the path of Jan Vertonghen who stroked home from close range, scoring his fifth goal for his country. Replays showed that the 27-year-old may have been offside.
Despite some heavy pressure from South Korea in the closing minutes, Belgium held out for a 1-0 victory and were close to doubling their winning margin when Eden Hazard went close late on.
The Red Devils advance to the last 16 as winners of Group H. Wilmots’ Belgium now face USA on Tuesday 1st July at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
KOREA REPUBLIC: S G Kim, S Y Yun, Y G Kim, H M Son (D W Ji 73), Y Lee, J C Koo, K Y Han (K H Lee 46), S Y Ki, C Y Lee, S W Kim (B K Kim 66), J H Hong.
BOOKINGS: J H Hong 35.
BELGIUM: Courtois, Vanden Borre, Lombaerts, Vertonghen, Van Buyten, Defour, Dembele, Fellaini, Januzaj (Origi 60), Mirallas (Hazard 88), Mertens (Chadli 60).
GOALS: Vertonghen 78.
BOOKINGS: Dembele 50.
SENT OFF: Defour 45.
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