Belgium vs. Russia: 6 Things We Learned
After securing a victory against Algeria last week, Belgium faced Russia on Sunday.
Manager Marc Wilmots made a few changes to his first XI. Marouane Fellaini took the place of Moussa Dembele in the centre of midfield, while Dries Mertens started instead of Nacer Chadli.
Thomas Vermaelen, who had to be replaced after about half an hour, was picked instead of Jan Vertonghen.
Late in the second half, substitute Divock Origi scored the only goal, but before that, the Rode Duivels did not live up to expectations.
Here, we take a look at six things the Belgians can learn from this match.
Van Buyten the First Choice
With players like Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, Wilmots has plenty to choose from when it comes to his centre-backs.
Throughout Belgium's preparatory campaign, it looked like Wilmots would pick Vermaelen to partner Kompany in the heart of defence. But for the matches against Algeria and Russia, Wilmots picked Daniel van Buyten.
While he still seems uncertain about the left-back position, Wilmots seems to have made his mind up about the centre-backs. Van Buyten now belongs to the first XI.
While most of Belgium's talented squad underperformed, Romelu Lukaku's underwhelming performance was perhaps the most poignant.
Lukaku was supposed to make the Belgians forget about Christian Benteke, who suffered a serious injury in April. But against Russia, he almost seemed invisible.
Shortly after the half-time break, Lukaku was taken off for youngster Divock Origi. The Lille striker scored the winning goal right before the final whistle.
As things stand now, it's his stand-in, not Lukaku, who's adequately replacing Benteke. Will Wilmots consequently put Origi in his first XI?
De Bruyne Needs to Play in the Centre
Against Algeria, Kevin de Bruyne, who usually plays as a central attacking midfielder, started as a right-winger. Nacer Chadli was was put in De Bruyne's place.
During the second half of the match against Algeria, Wilmots moved De Bruyne to his natural position and took off Chadli for Dries Mertens. Immediately, De Bruyne started playing better, getting involved in buildups and creating chances for his teammates.
Against Russia, De Bruyne started where he belongs: as a central attacking midfielder. Like in the second half against Algeria, he was a focal point of Belgium's attacks.
It seems like Wilmots has learned from Belgium's bad first-half performance against Algeria: The Rode Duivels are the most effective with De Bruyne in as the central playmaker.
Where's All That Creativity?
With players like Eden Hazard and De Bruyne, Belgium seemingly pack a lot of creativity in their midfield and attack. Against Russia, however, this did not show. For most of the match, the Belgians seemed unable to fashion any chance at all.
The Rode Duivels had similar problems during the first half of their match against Algeria. It almost makes you wonder: Where's all this creativity Belgium are supposed to have?
It could be nerves, or it could be inexperience. In any case, it's obvious Belgium's creative players are not living up to their potential.
Januzaj Not Trusted Yet
Even though Belgium's first XI put in a disappointing performance, Wilmots decided against bringing in highly rated youngster Adnan Januzaj.
The versatile winger and attacking midfielder could have been brought on for Mertens, who was eventually replaced by Kevin Mirallas, or even Hazard, who failed to live up to the high expectations surrounding his name.
But Januzaj was not called upon at all. Rather than giving him a go, Wilmots left Manchester United's wonder-kid on the bench.
It seems like the manager does not trust the youngster to play at the highest level just yet.
Can Belgium Handle the Pressure?
Before the World Cup, expectations were high for Belgium. With players like Hazard and Kompany playing important roles for their Premier League clubs, some critics even believed the Rode Duivels could be dark horses.
Belgium won their matches against Algeria and Russia, and consequently, they have qualified for the knockout round. Yet it's difficult to shake the impression that the Rode Duivels have underperformed so far.
Undeniably, there's some great talent in the Belgian squad. But do these individuals form a team that can perform at the World Cup? Furthermore, are these players old and experienced enough to handle the pressures of football's most prestigious tournament?