The game between Belgium and Russia was not one for the purists, and was an uninspired affair save for a moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard. Belgium managed to secure their berth in the knockout stages albeit unconvincingly whilst Russia must win and hope that the Red Devils do them a favor against South Korea.
Here are my 5 observations from the World Cup game:
1. Dries Mertens sparks, Hazard delivers but the Red Devils fail to fire
Spare a thought for Dmitry Kombarov who seemed to have no answer for Belgian winger Dries Mertens. To borrow a phrase from Sam Allardyce, the Russian fullback suffered from ‘twisted blood’ such was treatment the Belgian winger was dishing out to the Spartak Moscow man. Indeed Russia’s left appeared to be the weak link for Fabio Capello’s side and was exploited time and time again in the first half. It was surprising that Capello didn’t seem to rectify the situation as Komborov was being caught out on several occasions and couldn’t cope with Mertens on his own.
Mertens for all his hard work in the opening 45 minutes could not find the final ball for a teammate or trouble Igor Akinfeev more frequently. His performance in the second half failed to match his efforts in the first.
Marc Wilmots’ gamble to play Thomas Vermaelen backfired when the Arsenal defender and reported Manchester United target had to go off in the first half injured whilst Romelu Lukaku, who was so clinical for Everton, once again struggled to get into the game. Playing with his back to goal proved to be difficult for Lukaku and for a player of his physical attributes he should be using his size better.
To be fair Lukaku wasn’t alone in disappointing and the Belgians only seemed to spark into life in the last 10 minutes. Kevin Mirallas’ clever free kick deceived Igor Akinfeev but unfortunately for him the ball struck the bottom of the post whilst Eden Hazard only seemed to turn it on in the closing stages of the game when he setup the winner for Divock Origi.
2. Lukaku should fear for his place
After yet another lackluster performance Romelu Lukaku will be anxiously looking over his shoulder, as Divcock Origi impressed once again. It can be reasonably argued that had Christian Benteke not been injured he would have been the main striker and not Lukaku.
As it turns out Origi could be in line for his first start of the World Cup against South Korea. His pace is a weapon that Wilmots can utilize, indeed it was Origi’s run in the first game against Algeria, which took away a defender away from Dries Mertens and allowed the winger time to score the winner.
Origi was in the right place at the right time against Russia to slam home the vital goal. After his work against Algeria and Russia the teenager’s prospects for a start in the next game look pretty good indeed.
3. Quality not quantity
Despite Belgium shading possession it was the Russians who broke dangerously and with purpose. Russia was unlucky not to win a penalty when Toby Alderweireld caught Maksim Kanunnikov just inside the box. They should have been ahead when Alexandr Korkorin missed a gilt edged chance at the end of the first half heading an uncontested header wide from eight yards out.
As has been a theme in this World Cup possession has not been seen as vital on the proviso that when the defending team do win the ball they counter directly and with pace.
Capello will note that the Russians were beaten at their own game as a swift counter attack from Belgium undid his side. He will also rue the lack of cutting edge displayed by his team as they should have been a couple of goals up rather than being stunned by a late Belgian winner.
4. Improvements are required
To put it kindly this match was not a classic. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as too much as a surprise. Russia under Capello is extremely difficult to beat and hard to score against. It took a freak goal from Lee Keun-Ho to breach the Russian net in the last game and a moment of Hazard brilliance to open them up in this match.
However there can be no room for error when setting up in that manner especially if there’s a lack of a clinical edge going forward. Is Capello being too conservative and not encouraging his team to play a more attacking game? That could work against him, as Russia will need a result in their final match and for that to happen they need to force the play.
Belgium for their part did not look like a team who could challenge for the World Cup. Though they possess a talented group of individuals the Red Devils just don’t inspire as a unit yet. If Wilmots can get the Belgians to gel then he’ll have a formidable force at his disposal but it is up to him to find the formula that makes this squad click.
5. Russia and 2018
Russia’s game against Algeria could be their last competitive World Cup match for four years. With the Russian’s hosting the tournament in 2018 the onus is on them to produce a strong squad and bring them through in time for the next World Cup. They should use the upcoming European Championship qualifying campaign and finals, if they make it, to blood any new talent that comes through and replace the aging players.
Fabio Capello is tied to Russia till the next World Cup but his immediate concern is for his side to win their last group game and hope that they do enough to qualify for the knock out stages. Anything less could see his position under serious threat.
The Italian legend had an awful time with England in South Africa, it would be quite an ‘achievement’ if his experience with Russia in this tournament turned out to be even worse.