Belgium 1 Russia 0: Highlights, key battles, and what this result means
Published on Jun 23, 2014 2:42 AM
It took all of 87 minutes, but the prodigious talent that is Eden Hazard finally turned up to play at Brazil's most famous football cathedral.
Belgium's star forward livened up a drab encounter with Russia by exquisitely setting up substitute Divock Origi for the game's only goal, sending their country into the World Cup Round of 16 for the first time since 2002.
The match at the 80,000-capacity Maracana stadium was pockmarked by jeers and puzzled looks from fans as both teams struggled for creativity and class in attack.
Adopting a rigid defensive setup with restricted overlaps from the full-backs, Russia manager Fabio Capello could have no complaints as his troops fired blanks. All three of their shots on goal were from long range, easily dealt with by Belgian custodian Thibaut Courtois.
- Even in a dreary game, Hazard was always going to be the danger man. And so he proved as a stout Russian defence failed to regroup quickly. That was all the Chelsea winger needed to inject pace and panache to burst past three opponents. Driving from the edge of the box towards the goal-line, the 23-year-old cut the ball back perfectly for Origi to thump in his first goal for the Red Devils.
- One of Russia's shots off target will rank up there with the misses of the tournament. As Dmitry Kombarov's pinpoint cross drifted through a static Belgium backline, an unmarked Alexander Kokorin somehow managed to direct his header wide of goal from six yards out.
- Courtois' saves from three piledrivers looked routine - only because the next Chelsea No. 1 has mastered the art of directing his parries away from opponents and the danger area.
Dries Mertens vs Dmitry Kombarov
This was perhaps the only clash that Russia won on the day. Kombarov put in a solid shift at left-back to neutralise Belgium's most impressive performer in their opening game against Algeria. Having earned a rare start, the speedy Mertens was restricted to just two passes in the final third after the break, prompting his withdrawal in the 75th minute.
Kombarov also crafted his team's best opening. His delicious curler for Kokorin just before the interval deserved a better finish and would have deflated the Belgians, who looked lethargic and limp in attack at the time.
Man of the Match
It is hard to pick out someone who truly shone in a fixture where some fans were spotted dozing off. Hazard's moment of magic, however, turned the match on its head and sent his country into the knockout phase.
For that alone, the speedster stood out over a 90-minute period that will soon be forgotten by all but Belgium's most ardent supporters.
What this result means
The Red Devils will secure top spot in Group H with a draw against South Korea on Thursday. As targetman Romelo Lukaku continues to misfire, manager Marc Wilmots could use this fixture to further experiment with the tantalising link-up of Hazard and 19-year-old sensation Origi.
With just a single point to show for their efforts so far, Russia must beat Algeria to have any hope of extending their stay in Brazil. Capello will not want to begin the summer holidays at the same time as his former team England.