Belgium qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare Sunday evening, defeating Russia 1-0 in a relatively drab encounter.
Divock Origi played the part of hero, coming off the bench to win it late on after sublime work from Eden Hazard.
Formations and XIs
Belgium played in their usual 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid formation, starting the first game's super-substitutes Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini.
Russia played a more expansive 4-2-3-1 than against South Korea, with Aleksei Kozlov and Maksim Kanunnikov coming in for Andrey Eshchenko and Yuri Zhirkov.
Russia were very careful in their first game, playing a tight-knit 4-4-1-1 formation and leaving central midfielders Viktor Fayzulin and Denis Glushakov to sit deep and protect.
Against Belgium, they took a different approach, pushing the two central midfielders forward and pressing the Red Devils in advanced areas. The two also committed to attacks, sitting 10 yards or so higher than they did against South Korea.
It made for two eventualities: increased attacks and more chances on goal for the Sbornaya and space behind the midfielders for Belgium to attack.
Oleg Shatov and Kanunnikov received a total of 28 passes in advanced areas in the first half alone, keeping in trend with Russia's remarkable final-third passing efficiency and accuracy.
Kanunnikov, while not spectacular, was more aggressive and purposeful than Zhirkov on the left and helped create chances.
Between the Lines
With Fayzulin and Glushakov pushing on, Belgium found most of their joy in transitions and counter-attacks.
Kevin de Bruyne is a surprisingly good dribbling threat, and Dries Mertens ran rampant on the right, skinning Dmitry Kombarov alive and beating Kanunnikov going that way with ease.
Mertens was the man making ground, with his delightful tendency of knocking the ball into space for a defender to come for, then whipping it from their grasp at the last second, flummoxing Russia every time.
At one stage in the first half it felt as though a goal was inevitable...
Marc Wilmots' Subs
...but all intensity, rhythm and flow to the game fell away after 30 minutes of play.
Russia began dropping deeper again and missed a golden chance when Aleksandr Kokorin headed wide from eight yards. Suddenly Eden Hazard was facing three vs. ones rather than two vs. ones, then later he was progressively frozen from the game in its entirety.
The entertainment drought continued into the second half until Wilmots made his move, sending on Divock Origi for the woeful Romelu Lukaku and pushing Fellaini further up.
The two as a partnership didn't have much of an impact—Fellaini was surprisingly pedestrian in the aerial game in truth—but they did manage to attract enough attention to pull the double markers away from Hazard.
Suddenly the Chelsea man had a little more space, and after a few dummy surges down the left, he broke a tackle, hit the byline and pulled it back for an Origi winner.
Minutes later, he did the same and sprayed it right only for fellow substitute Kevin Mirallas to fire harmlessly into Igor Akinfeev.
Those who hadn't seen Belgium during qualifying will have been shocked by their first 180 minutes, but they were a little sterile pre-tournament too.
They have a nasty habit of slowing games down to a snail's pace, and while they were bright for 30 minutes, they slipped back into that near-comatose state soon enough.
Unimpressive and unimaginative, they qualified for the knockout stages with six points from two matches.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!