Super-sub Origi gives Belgium late winner
All of Belgium’s goals have come from substitutes, as Origi’s late winner sinks Russia
(Divock Origi 88)
Belgium snatched a dramatic late winner against Russia this morning (Singapore time), certainly sealing their place in the next stage.
It was substitute Divock Origi who smashed home the winner with just two minutes to play, plunging Russia’s campaign into chaos.
At this rate, Fabio Capello’s team could be going home early. There are few who would say that they deserve anything else.
Initially, Group H had looked like one of the more intriguing of the World Cup pools, an effervescent mix of the best of East and West, youth and experience. Instead, it’s become something of a quagmire.
Belgian boss Marc Wilmots has been under pressure for some time, burdened with expectations for a golden generation.
But, while his key players have been poor, his substitutions have been excellent. Two changes brought two goals against Algeria last week.
This time, it was replacement Origi who made the difference. Wilmots seems to have a knack for this.
Surprisingly, Capello resisted the temptation to drop Igor Akinfeev after his calamitous error against South Korea.
Somewhere Rob Green, dropped by the Italian after a similar mistake for England in 2010, must have glowered. Russia, with only two changes to their last team, were much as they were last week, cautious and soporific.
Belgium, underwhelming but ultimately successful against Algeria, made three changes to their line-up, promoting last week’s scorers Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens, while swopping Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen with Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen.
It was a short-lived change. Vermaelen was withdrawn after half an hour, having aggravated a problem he’d picked up in the warm-up. Vertonghen was given an unexpected second chance.
Manager Wilmots pushed Fellaini up to support Romelu Lukaku, with Kevin de Bruyne dropping deep to help Alex Witsel in the midfield. Initially, the big Manchester United midfielder looked dangerous, but it wasn’t long before Capello had tightened his lines and removed the threat.
There were few highlights in a drab first half, even fewer after the break. Mertens justified his inclusion with a number of jinking runs through a static backline, but he found little support from his teammates and was similarly neutralised in the second half.
Russia’s best chance came from Alexander Kokorin, one of only a handful of young players in the squad.
The Dynamo Moscow forward should have done far better when he found himself between Daniel van Buyton and Vincent Kompany, but the young Russian forward could only head Denis Glushakov’s cross beyond the post.
Lukaku paid the price for Belgium’s flat performance, withdrawn on the hour for the second game running. He stormed to the dugout and seemed to exchange words with his manager, shaking his head in dismay.
But there was no defending the scarcity of his performance. He barely contributed at all. Jose Mourinho, who controversially sent the young striker on loan for the season, has been vindicated by these performances.
This was a wretched game that seemed to be heading for a predictable conclusion. But, once again, Wilmots changed the game. He, at least, is having a very impressive tournament.
Belgium, tipped by so many people to be the dark horses of the summer, are still less than the sum of their parts.
Never mind the maximum points, if they don’t improve sharply when the knockout games begin, they will be picked off by better teams than Russia.
Winning ugly suits Wilmots
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said his team do not have to play beautiful football to progress in the World Cup, after his side squeezed past Russia in a largely drab 1-0 win this morning (Singapore time) to book their place in the knockout phase.
"To advance in a tournament, you don't always need to be pretty. I believe that you need to be efficient," Wilmots (above) said after the match.
"What counts is that Belgium got a good win and qualified for the second round. Everything else has absolutely no importance."
Brazilian fans jeered the teams during the second half of their Group H match that was littered with mistakes.
But that was before the closing stages when winger Eden Hazard switched on the kind of form that has lit up Chelsea matches this season as he created several late chances.
It was his cross that set up the 88th-minute winner by 19-year-old substitute Divock Origi, who is the youngest player to score in this tournament and the first teenager to net in the World Cup Finals since Lionel Messi in 2006.
Wilmots said that Belgium were the second-youngest team at the World Cup, giving them an edge in the heat of Brazil as games go into their closing stages.
Belgium also scored two goals in the last 20 minutes to beat Algeria in their first game.
"Why did it change? Because we were physically stronger," Wilmots said.
"There's something clear in football. Levels of physical fitness count in a World Cup."
Hazard said that his fitness helped him settle games.
"I know how to make the difference. When I make the difference, I often do it at the end of the match and that shows that I am fresh," he said.
Wilmots said that Belgium would be looking for three more points in their final group match against South Korea, but he might rest players who have picked up yellow cards and who would miss the first knockout match if they were booked again.
Axel Witsel and Toby Alderweireld were cautioned this morning, while Jan Vertonghen was shown a yellow card against Algeria.
Russia coach Fabio Capello said that the 1-0 defeat by Belgium was undeserved and that he still believes his team can progress to the second round.
The Russians have only one point and face a must-win game against Algeria, who have three after beating South Korea 4-2 this morning.
"To be honest, I am very happy with the performance of the team. The result isn't fair but the reality is that we lost," said Capello.
"We had the chances to win. It was a nice game with both teams trying to win. Unfortunately they were the ones able to do it.
Belgium were on top for the opening 45 minutes, but Capello said his team had opportunities to win the game that they failed to make the most of.
"We played a large part of the first half on the counter-attack and we had chances, but we made mistakes with the final pass and maybe we also shot a little too hurriedly," said the Italian.
"But in the second half, the team were almost bossing the game.
"The reality is that when Belgium go forward on the break, they are very dangerous." - Reuters.
He’s in a good space right now, he’s 19 years old. It was a bit of a surprise since he was an unknown before I selected him. Now everyone knows who he is.
— Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, on his match-winner Divock Origi