Belgium ensured a berth in the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup™ with
a last-gasp 1-0 victory over Russia in Rio de Janeiro courtesy of another
substitute goal, this time from Divock Origi.
With 120 seconds remaining of a Group H encounter that had largely failed
to spark in front of an expectant home crowd, the 19-year-old combined
with Eden Hazard, who raced to the by-line and pulled back for his younger
colleague to thrash into the roof of the net.
Having both risen from the substitutes’ bench to inspire a 2-1 comeback
victory over Algeria in their opener, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots welcomed
Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens into his XI. Thomas Vermaelen took
up residence in defence but was later forced off with injury. For his
part, Fabio Capello made two changes, keeping faith with goalkeeper Igor
Belgium’s innate commitment to attack was evident during the opening exchanges
at the Maracana, although the subsequent space conceded in defence afforded
Victor Fayzulin a chance to clip a long-range drive accurately at goal.
Thibaut Courtois punched away safely.
In response, the Red Devils launched a continual siege along the right
flank. First, Kevin De Bruyne scampered forward and released Mertens,
but the latter’s stroke into the centre was cleared before Romelu Lukaku
could pounce. Napoli wide-man Mertens then created two opportunities out
of individual clever play but sent each off target.
Akinfeev was made to work ten minutes before half-time, however. Exactly
the same approach brought freedom for the effervescent Mertens, although
his shot across the face of goal was parried away cleanly and sufficiently
by the experienced CSKA Moscow custodian.
For all of the Belgians’ territorial dominance, Capello’s charges should
have entered the break ahead; a sweeping delivery from the left by Denis
Glushakov found Alexander Kokorin, who somehow contrived to glance a header
wide after expertly moving into space in a central position inside the
There was a slow pace to proceedings in Rio when the action resumed for
the second half, prompting Wilmots to introduce Origi in place of Lukaku,
yet the organisation and structure of Russia’s defence thwarted all movement
forward. When Hazard collected possession and shimmied around his marker,
he merely found another opponent in the way of his blast.
The same fate befell Origi with little over ten minutes remaining before,
as in the opening period, Russia wasted an invitation – a timely Andrey
Eshchenko run latched onto a smart pass to the flank, but the No22’s hit
carried wide. Kevin Mirallas directed a low free-kick onto the left post
but Origi struck hard and true in the 88th minute to secure all three
points and qualification.