Today, Belgium will face Russia in the Maracanã in what is likely to be a pivotal encounter. Victory in the day’s early kickoff (Noon Eastern time/1pm local time) would see either side take control of a wide-open Group H. Both teams last played on Tuesday, Belgium were unconvincing in their defeat of Algeria while Russia rallied to take a point in a labored match with South Korea.
Vincent Kompany is a doubt for the Red Devils in Rio. The 28-year-old captain suffered a groin strain in Belgium’s previous match, and missed training sessions on Thursday and Friday. Thomas Vermaelen may start in place of Kompany, although the Arsenal man could still make his World Cup debut if Kompany is fit. Manager Marc Wilmots is thought to be toying with the idea of excluding 36-year-old Daniel Van Buyten.
Tottenham Hotspur duo Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembélé may be dropped, after underwhelming performances against Algeria. As in that match, they are likely to be replaced by Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini.
Mertens and Fellaini could be joined in the starting XI by Divock Origi, although this would be seen as something of a risk by Wilmots. Origi impressed coming on for Romelu Lukaku against Algeria.
Meanwhile, Russia will look to bounce back from a disappointing display against South Korea. Coach Fabio Capello’s most urgent decision is whether or not to drop goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev after his dreadful blunder midweek. The CSKA man fumbled what should have been a comfortable catch, gifting South Korea their only goal of the game. Capello could play either Yury Lodygin or Sergey Ryzhikov in his stead.
The Italian may also give play-maker Alan Dzagoev the nod over Oleg Shatov. Dzagoev was surprised not to be a starter on Tuesday, but provided some much-needed creativity once introduced, and had a hand in Russia’s equaliser.
While both could do with a win today, defeat would definitely put a spanner in the works, especially for Russia. Capello’s men, probably fancying their chances against final game opponents Algeria, might be inclined to play for a point here. A scoreless draw wouldn’t surprise many.
Possible starting XI
(4-2-3-1) Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini; Mertens, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku
(4-3-3) Akinfeev; Yehschenko, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Kombarov; Denisov, Glushakov; Dzagoev; Samedov, Kokorin, Kerzhakov