On the last day in the second round of group matches, we witnessed the up and coming stars of Belgium take on Fabio Capello’s Russia. Two teams with very different styles of play, Belgium playing attacking free flowing football while the Russians sat back trying to nick a goal on the break or from a set piece. The game was played in the sweltering heat in the home of Brazilian football, the Maracana, in Rio de Janeiro.
The Belgians kept possession early on and went to attack right from the beginning, as expected, winning a corner and creating a couple of other half chances. Russia began to come into the game after they really struggled to get a kick in the opening ten minutes, with Kokorin now looking to use his pace to get in behind veteran centre back Daniel Van Buyten at every opportunity.
Russia really surprised me, playing some nice football as they went for an early goal forcing 22-year-old Thibaut Courtois into a routine save on more than one occasion. Both sides were seeing plenty of the ball and Dries Mertens gave the Russian back four a scare after a shot from distance narrowly missed the bottom right corner. 31 minutes in Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen was forced off with an injury he picked up in the warm up and was unable to continue, having to be replaced by Jan Vertonghen.
It was scoreless at half time but not for the want of trying as both teams pushed hard to get the upper hand. As the second half got underway Russia came flying out of the traps looking really positive, constantly attempting to get round the back of Alderweir and Vertonghen. Romelu Lukaku was finally withdrawn ten minutes into the second half following what can only be described as an appalling performance from the Chelsea striker. Russia still continued to pile forward in search a crucial goal but they just couldn’t find the final finish, Kokorin unable to make telling contact with what would have been a spectacular bicycle kick.
Marc Wilmot’s men then had a penalty shout as Kevin De Bruyne raced forward finding Eden Hazard, who tried to play a one to with substitute Divorck Origi, but as Hazard went to receive the ball back he was dragged down by Ignashevich, no penalty given though. Belgium began to get worried and their game plan quickly became to lump it in on top of Fellaini and hope Ogiri could play off the scraps. As the final whistle drew closer, Belgium won a free kick on the edge of Igor Akinfeev’s 18-yard box which Kevin Mirallas smashed against the woodwork. On 87 minutes the inevitable happened, a goal, Eden Hazard hit the by-line and pulled it back for Lukaku’s replacement Origi who slotted home to all but secure Belgium’s qualification the knockout stage. Belgium have one final chance but Kevin Mirallas’ finish is lackluster and doesn’t trouble Akinfeev.
Russia must have felt hard done by, as a neutral they really impressed me and if they play in the same manner we saw today then they should beat Algeria with some ease and finish second in group H.
Watch the match highlights here: