Football

Kompany hopes to play at Maracana

Belgium skipper confident of fulfilling dream of playing at the Maracana

GROUP H

BELGIUM v RUSSIA

(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)

Belgium captain Vincent Kompany hopes to shrug off a groin problem and fulfil "a childhood dream" by leading his team out to face Russia at the Maracana tonight.

Marc Wilmots' side can secure a place in the last 16 if they overcome Fabio Capello's Russia in the Group H encounter, and Kompany (above) is confident he will be fit enough to play at the fabled stadium for the first time.

"I'm doing very well," the Manchester City centre back told a pre-game press conference at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro this morning (Singapore time).

"I've followed an individual programme these last two days. Today I'm training with the team. If everything goes well, there won't be any problems for tomorrow (Sunday).

"In the worst case, there are valuable players who can replace me. My personal situation is not the most important thing.

"Playing at the Maracana is an honour, a source of pride. With Wembley, it's the most mythical stadium in the world. I've already achieved lots of my childhood dreams. This is another one."

The 28-year-old added: "I think that all the players, Belgian and Russian, will share the same extraordinary feeling here. And I think it's the case for the journalists as well."

While Belgium came from behind to beat Algeria 2-1 in their opening game in Belo Horizonte, Russia could muster only a 1-1 draw against South Korea.

ONUS

With Belgium two points above their opponents ahead of tonight's fixture, coach Wilmots believes the onus will be on Russia to come out and attack.

"The advantage for us is that we don't need to take the match in hand. It's up to Russia to do it. But will they actually do it?"

Wilmots has hinted that he will field Porto's Steven Defour alongside Axel Witsel, and Marouane Fellaini in midfield against Russia, but he was coy about giving anything away on the eve of the match.

"I said that I could do it. I didn't say that I would," he said. "Everyone knows the qualities that this triangle has, but I have other possibilities."

Meanwhile, Russia are not feeling extra pressure because they did not start their World Cup campaign with a win, coach Fabio Capello said this morning.

"Nothing whatsoever changes just because they won the first match," said Capello, in reference to Belgium's 2-1 win over Algeria.

"They suffered too. They had three chances and scored twice. We had the chance to score a second goal and we failed to do that. That's where the difference lies."

Capello also pointed out that Russia played their opening game in the heat of Cuiaba, in Brazil's low-lying wetlands, while Belgium opened their campaign in the less stifling city of Belo Horizonte.

Capello reiterated that goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who allowed South Korea to take the lead when the ball squeezed through his hands in the worst goalkeeping error of the tournament, will keep his place in the team.

"He is a great goalkeeper, one of the best in the world," said Capello.

- Wire Services.

World Cup