Belgium came away with a big 2-0 win against Scotland on Friday to get that much closer to Brazil.
It was a wet night at Hampden Park. The pitch looked pretty slick, which really benefited Scotland. The conditions helped to slow down the quick, tricky players on Belgium and made it that much harder for them to put an attack together.
However, Belgium found the breakthrough in the 35th minute. On the counter, Kevin de Bruyne sent in a great ball from the right flank to an on-rushing Steven Defour, who slotted his finish nicely into the bottom left corner. The Belgian Waffle is unlikely alone in his belief that the quality of the goal only improves with repeated viewings.
Marouane Fellaini deserves a lot of credit for winning the ball in midfield to start the counter-attack.
The Belgian Waffle thought Scotland played very well in the first half.
For the majority of the first half, this was a very close match. Neither side could get much of an advantage. Scotland smartly sat back and let Belgium run at them. They weren't trying to get too opened up, which would have left them exposed on the counter.
The one time Scotland did really get caught out, Belgium made them pay for it.
Scotland remained very organized at the back and tried to clog the centre of the pitch. That meant Christian Benteke was unable to get much service at the top of the attack. He's not the kind of striker who's going to pick up the ball at midfield and run at the defence.
Gordon Strachan had a plan on how to handle Benteke, and he got his players to execute it to perfection.
Marc Wilmots remained composed on the touchline. He didn't demand his players run forward and try to get another goal as quickly as possible. He was content to have his side patiently probe the Scottish defence and look for that one opportunity.
It was a strategy that paid off late in the match.
Belgium got that all-important insurance goal in the 89th minute, courtesy of Kevin Mirallas. Off a great pass from Benteke, Mirallas was alone on goal, remained composed and finished a slick shot into the bottom left corner (h/t BeNeFoot).
The Belgians deserve a lot of credit for their defending. They didn't give Scotland much in the attacking third and earned the clean sheet, which is their sixth of the qualifying campaign.
For Belgium, the win will surely enough to get them through to the World Cup. They're five points ahead of Croatia and have at least guaranteed themselves a spot in the final play-off.
BeNeFoot also thought this win was pivotal in solidifying Wilmots as the man to continue taking Belgium forward.
This is a team to look out for as it's loaded with talented young players. In one year's time, Belgium could be one of the major dark horses in Brazil.
Key Player Grades
Steven Defour: B+
Steven Defour played a little higher up the pitch than you're used to seeing him. It was a transition which the 25-year-old moved seamlessly into. Defour was getting into attacking positions and helping to set up his teammates.
It was clear that Belgium lacked that link between the midfield and Christian Benteke, so in that regard, Defour was a bit lacking. You couldn't have been too surprised by that.
The first goal for Belgium was a great bit of team play that was possible because Defour had the intelligence to make the right run.
Kevin de Bruyne: A-
Although he didn't score, Kevin de Bruyne put in a man of the match performance. He was one of the few players who offered much width to Belgium. His assist for the Defour goal was sublime.
If Belgium were doing anything in the final third, it was likely as a result of something de Bruyne did. He was cutting inside to get shots on goal, and he was also playing as a more traditional winger, trying to create down the flanks. It was an overall great performance from the Chelsea winger.
Scott Brown: B
Picking out a standout individual performance from Scotland is a bit hard to do. Their strength came from how organized they remained, not really looking to one player to make a difference.
Scott Brown did a good job playing alongside Charlie Mulgrew in central midfield. He helped to clog up the pitch and cut off the supply to Benteke, while simultaneously doing his best to start the counter attack for Scotland.
Belgium will travel to Croatia for their next match in World Cup qualification, on Sept. 11. Scotland will have time to rest after this match as they have an away fixture on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in their next qualifying match.