Belgium has this morning secured their place in the knockout stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, scoring a late goal to beat a spirited Russia 1-0 in their Group H match at the Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
Coming from behind to beat Algeria 2-1 in their World Cup campaign opener last week, Belgium were expected to burst from the gates and heap the pressure on Russia from this morning’s opening whistle, however were again unable to maintain possession and found themselves on the back foot.
Maintaining an early tirade on goal over the first ten minutes, Belgium began to build in awareness and play in general, shifting the momentum and allowing midfielder Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne space to play.
Largely the better team over the first 45 minutes of play, Belgium continued to be boosted by De Bruyne down the left hand side, who was provided key support by a rampant Dries Mertens, however lacked a final touch when attempting to convert.
Manager Marc Wilmots was forced to look to his bench early in Belgium’s World Cup tie with Russia when central defender and Vice-Captain Thomas Vermaelen was forced from the pitch after succumbing to an injury initially sustained in the game’s warm-up; replaced by Jan Vertonghen.
The necessary move had both positive and negative effects for Belgium; a noticeably sturdier defensive line, but limiting the options for attacking substitutes as the Russians began to tire.
Finding the break still on an even playing field, the Belgians continued to press upon returning to the pitch, but were continually denied a winner by a scrambling Russian defence.
The introduction of striker Divock Origi seemed to spark the Belgian attack back to life, as the 19-year-old continued to find space and cause headaches for a clearly tiring Russian back line.
Having been unlucky not to convert a few reasonable chances over his first 20 minutes of play, the Lille striker became Belgium’s youngest ever player to score at a World Cup when combining with Eden Hazard down the left wing to complete an impressive counter attack and put the Red Devils into the lead in the 88th minute.
Taking the majority of the game to finally break the Russian defence, Belgium was good enough to maintain possession and book their place in the second round of the 2014 World Cup; a sigh of relief from the Belgian faithful flooding the stadium upon the match-ending whistle.
With Belgium assured progression to the knock out stages of the 2014 World Cup, all of Russia, South Korea and Algeria still have the chance to progress with victory in the last round of Group H matches later this week.
Despite yet to register a victory this campaign, Russia is currently offered at odds of $2.10 to beat Algeria ($3.50) on Friday morning, while Belgium is expected to continue on their winning ways at $1.80 to beat South Korea ($4.50) at Ladbrokes.com.au.