Belgium vs. South Korea: 6 Things We Learned
In what was their final group-stage match of the World Cup in Brazil, Belgium faced South Korea in Sao Paulo on Thursday.
For a long time, the match seemed to be headed for a draw, but late in the second half, defender Jan Vertonghen managed to tap in a deflected shot from Divock Origi.
Shortly before the half-time whistle, the match had taken a difficult turn for the Belgians when defensive midfielder Steven Defour was presented with a red card after a harsh tackle.
At times, Belgium underwhelmed, but nevertheless, the Rode Duivels won their third match in a row, finishing on top in Group H with a score of 1-0.
Here, we take a look six things we have learned about Belgium.
Impressive Squad Depth
As he had done ahead of the matches against Algeria and Russia, manager Marc Wilmots once again changed his first XI.
At right-back, Anthony Vanden Borre started. In central defence, there was Nicolas Lombaerts. Instead of Axel Witsel, the boss picked Steven Defour.
Undoubtedly, Wilmots based his decisions on bookings that some players had received during the first two matches, or perhaps there were a few niggling injuries. Belgium had already qualified beforehand and didn't need to go all out against South Korea.
But at least a draw was needed to finish first in the group, so the match had some importance. It was therefore impressive that Wilmots was able to rest so many players and not give away too much quality.
Januzaj Is Here
Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj declared for Belgium only shortly before the World Cup, and so it was a bit of a surprise when he was picked for the Rode Duivels' definitive squad.
Even more surprising, perhaps, was his first XI place against South Korea. Next to Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini, Januzaj was positioned on the right side of Belgium's fluid attacking midfield.
Unfortunately, the 19-year-old failed to score or leave an unforgettable mark on the match. As a result, he was substituted in the second half. However, he likely has much more to offer in the future.
Mirallas Can Play as a Striker
In both matches, Lukaku was replaced by youngster Divock Origi. Against Russia, the 19-year-old managed to score the winning goal.
Ahead of the match against South Korea, it was expected Origi would take Lukaku's place in the first XI. But against expectations, Kevin Mirallas, who usually plays as a left-winger, received the nod.
Late in the second half, he came on for Origi, but apparently, Wilmots feels he has more options than just the Lille youngster and Lukaku.
Fellaini and Dembele Tandem
In midfield, Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini and Tottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele formed a tandem. But while most would expect Dembele to play closer to the striker than Fellaini, the opposite was true.
One obvious advantage of Fellaini's advanced position was his proximity to the opposition's box. Starting his runs from higher up the field, he was much more likely to end up on the receiving end of crosses coming from the byline. With his physical strength and length in mind, this was a good thing for the Manchester United man, at least in theory.
Correspondingly, Dembele often found himself closer to his own defence, ready to pick up the ball around the halfway line and initiate the buildup using his creativity.
Against South Korea, Fellaini and Dembele showed they can deviate from their usual positions, potentially providing even more fluidity to the Rode Duivels' midfield.
Wilmots Has No Clear First XI in Mind
During Belgium's qualifying campaign, Wilmots appeared to be a true tinkerer who constantly changed his first XI. But it was generally expected all that would stop during the World Cup.
It hasn't. Against Algeria, Russia and South Korea, he started out with different first XIs.
Kevin de Bruyne, who is usually picked as the central playmaker in midfield, has played on the right wing. Dries Mertens has started as a right-winger and as a left-winger. At left-back, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen have played.
At the centre of the defence, Vincent Kompany, Daniel van Buyten and Nicolas Lombaerts have all received playing time.
The list goes on for a while, but you get the picture. Apparently, Wilmots has no real first XI in mind, and it remains to be seen who will start the next match.
Trouble Finding the Net
Belgium have successfully qualified for the next round but not by playing exceptionally well—and certainly not by scoring a lot of goals.
All things considered, attacking players like Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who all play important attacking roles for their clubs, should have scored more. Against South Korea, the Rode Duivels once again had trouble finding the net.
In the knockout stage, these players will have to elevate their game, or Belgium will be exposed by a team that does have a lethal striker.