Divock Origi scored a late winner as Belgium advanced to the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Russia on Sunday in Group H play at the Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
Origi, 19, settled a largely drab affair in the 88th minute, finishing from Eden Hazard's pull-back following a Belgium counter.
Both sides struggled to create chances otherwise, with Russia missing perhaps the best opportunity of the first half as Alexander Kokorin headed off target just before half-time.
With the win, Belgium remained atop Group H with six points, clinching progress to the round of 16 for the first time since 2002. The Red Devils finish group play against South Korea on Thursday in Sao Paulo. The Koreans, who were set to play Algeria later Sunday, are now the only team capable of catching Belgium in Group H, but they would need to win both remaining matches to do so.
Russia, meanwhile, are in third place with just one point after their second disappointing result in as many matches. Fabio Capello's team will hope to respond—and possibly salvage qualification for the next round—against Algeria on Thursday in Curitiba.
It wasn't all good news for Belgium, though, after defender Thomas Vermaelen left the match in the 31st minute. The Arsenal man had injured himself in pre-game warmups and was replaced by Jan Vertonghen at left-back.
In addition, starting striker Romelu Lukaku failed to impress again before being subbed off for Origi in the second half. As Belgium move into the knockout stages, coach Marc Wilmots could have a selection dilemma if Lukaku continues to disappoint.
Clear chances were scarce for both teams in the first half. Dries Mertens provided a spark for Belgium in the 20th minute, wriggling free outside the box before shooting wide of the near post.
The best chance of the half fell to Russia just before the break. Denis Glushakov curled in a fine cross from the left, picking out Kokorin between two Belgium defenders. But with only goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, Kokorin flicked his header off target.
As the Daily Mirror's Ed Malyon noted, the match largely failed to entertain:
Think this is the first bad game I've been to here. Decent opening but has completely disintegrated into bitty mush— Ed Malyon (@eaamalyon) June 22, 2014
The second half was little better until the final 10 minutes, when both teams finally showed some initiative in the attacking third.
Russia came close in the 81st minute as Andrey Eshchenko rolled a shot narrowly wide of the far post from Oleg Shatov's pass. Belgium responded three minutes later as substitute Kevin Mirallas scuffed a free-kick off Igor Akinfeev's right-hand post. The Red Devils had another chance in the 86th minute as Hazard created space for himself in the box before shooting wide.
Two minutes later, Belgium's goal finally arrived via a counter-attack. Hazard was the architect, driving to the byline on the left before pulling back for Origi at the near post. Origi, who had slipped free of his marker, finished high with his first touch to send Belgium into the next round.
|Daniel van Buyten||5||7|
|Kevin de Bruyne||8||7|
|Jan Vertonghen (for Vermaelen, 31')||6||6|
|Divock Origi (for Lukaku, 57')||N/A||8|
|Kevin Mirallas (for Mertens, 75')||N/A||6|
Ratings by B/R UK
|Andrey Eshchenko (for Kozlov, 62')||N/A||6|
|Alan Dzagoev (for Shatov, 83')||N/A||No rating|
|Alexander Kerzhakov (for Samedov, 90')||N/A||No rating|
Ratings by B/R UK
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots (via BBC Sport):
(Origi) is in a good space right now, he's 19 years old. It was a bit of a surprise since he was an unknown before I selected him. Now everyone knows who he is.
It was a hard game because the Russians were expecting us—the players were tired, it was hot, the Russians were already cramping up after 60 minutes.
It was not an easy match but I think we deserved to win it.
Russia coach Fabio Capello (via BBC Sport): "The match was a really good one, fast, strong. I'm disappointed for the players because they played a really good game."