World Cup 2014 – Group H – Match Report: Belgium 1– Russia 0 The Red Devils Meet the King

24 Jun

Pic 1 Dries Selfie with KingDate: Sunday, June 22, 2014
Place: Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Attendance: 73, 819

Line Ups

For Belgium

Thibaut Courtois
Toby Alderweireld
Daniel Van Buyten
Vincent Kompany (Captain)
Thomas Vermaelen, (substitute 31’ – Vertonghen)
Dries Mertens, (Substitute 75” Miralles)
Axel Witsel, yellow card,
Marouane Fellaini
Kevin De Bruyne
Romelu Lukaku (Divock Origi substitute 57’)
Eden Hazard

For Russia

Igor Akinfeev
Alexei Kozlov (Substitute 62’ – Eschenko)
Sergei Ignashevich
Vasili Berezutski , captain
Dmitri Kombarov
Viktor Fayzulin
Denis Glushakov, Yellow card,
Maksim Kanunnikov
Alexander Samedov (substitute 89’ Kherzkov)
Alexander Kokorin
Oleg Shatov, (Substitute Dzagoev 81’)

Dries Mertens’ Selfie with the King (see above) spread throughout the Twitter Universe yesterday after the Belgians qualified for the Round of Sixteen in front of the King and Queen of Belgium. While it was a day of great celebration for the Belgians, the match was not a walk over and it took an 89th minute goal to decide the matter.

As expected, the Belgians had a hard time penetrating the strong Russian defense but it would be fair to say that the only Belgian that showed any urgency at all was Dries Mertens. While Eden Hazard won the Man of the Match for his great pass to Divock Origi for his winning goal, I would consider the Chelsea man’s performance to be dismal through much of the match.

The first half had little to no energy and Lukaku and Hazard went missing throughout much of the half. In fact, the notable events of that half were the continual clashes of heads and strong, if not clumsy tackles. Vermaelen and Samedov were the first head clash of the day, which required smelling salts for Samedov. Vermaelen had a rough day, even before the match started with what was later shown to be a strain on the hamstring during the warm up session before the match. After a few strong runs clearly aggravated the problem, Vermaelen was substituted in the 31st minute and Jan Vertonghen came on.

I doubt we’ll see Vermaelen in Thursday’s match vs. South Korea but he’s already working on his physical therapy so hopefully he’ll make a good enough recovery for the Round of 16.
Pic 2 Vermaelen in physical therapy
The other clash of heads was between Alderweireld and Glushakov. Alderweireld had more than a few risky moments in this match. He started with an early hard tackle on Kokorin which should have put him in the ref’s book. He also had a very “risky challenge” (as the commentators kindly called it) with Kanunnikov right at the edge of the Belgian box just minutes later. A similar challenge on the same player would eventually get him booked in the 75th minute.

Throughout the first half, Belgium clearly had the dominant hold on the game but they could not take advantage of any of Dries Mertens’ runs down the flank and pass after pass after pass in front of goal. However, the Russians were able to make some progress in and around the Belgian goal but shots were either way off target or right at the 6’6’’ Courtois.

Pic 3 Berezutsky and Origi

One of many brave defensive runs made by Berezutsky

The Russian defense was still pretty strong, though Mertens was a continual thorn in the side of Kombarov. However, the CSKA boys made any pass coming anywhere near Lukaku null and void. Berezutsky was particularly busy as he not only anchored the defense, but ran up for height advantage on each and every corner or free kick.

With all the Belgian possession, the chance of the half belonged to the Russians. Glushakov, who only a few minutes earlier, was noted in the ref’s log for a hard challenge on Dries Mertens, slid a great pass to Kokorin who sadly headed the shot wide. It actually looked harder to miss the goal than plant it into the net. He absolutely should have capitalized on this and it may be that the Russians will rue that goal when calculating who goes on to the Round of 16.

The second half was honestly not much better than the first. Clumsy fouls, like the foolish one Alex Witsel made on Kanunnikov and caused him to injure his own shoulder, gave away the ball in midfield too often for the Belgians to start any momentum. Witsel would later stumble into Shatov and go into the referee’s book.

Both sides made subs to see if anyone could break the deadlock and to be sure, the subs did make a difference…eventually. I personally was disappointed to see that Coach Wilmots took off Dries Martens in the 75th minute for Kevin Miralles instead of Hazard or De Bruyne but clearly Mertens ran himself into the ground and was no longer effective. But the earlier two subs had the true say in how the game would end. In the 57th minute, Divock Origi came in for Lukaku and in the 62nd minute, Eschenko came on for Kozlov. While it would take another 20 minutes or so, both would make the biggest impact on the game, even though it would take until the dying minutes.

Finally in the 81st minute, substitute Eschenko made a run down the flank that was completely missed by the entire Red Devil squad and let off a brilliant attempt that just went wide. And seven minutes or so later, Sub Origi had a similar run down the flank, passed it to Hazard who gave it back to Origi so he could blast it into the net, making him the youngest Belgian goal scorer.
Belgium v Russia: Group H - 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilBelgium's Divock Origi celebrates after scoring a goal during their 2014 World Cup Group H soccer match against Russia at the Maracana stadium in Rio de JaneiroWhile Belgian hearts were thrilled to see their team go through to the next round, there are some things Coach Wilmots will have to work out as they reach stronger and stronger competition. The Russian defense was no pushover but the lack of fire power from Lukaku and Hazard is worrying. And it is pointless to have Dries Mertens running up and down the flank if there is no one willing to make the effort to capitalize on his hard work. However, Vincent Kompany reminds us in his tweet praising his team that this team is still young. However, he may need to use his leadership to get his young boys to take the necessary risks to put games away as they should.

Meanwhile, the Russians will have their work cut out for them. The game against Algeria will make or break them. The Algerians will be coming off a major high from their decisive victory over South Korea and feel good about their unity and shape in the Belgian game. The Russians should be able to frustrate their attack but they will need to be focused in the back and take some risks in the front. Fabio Capello will not be happy with a draw and neither should the team.

Vince the Prince with Queen

Vince the Prince with Queen

But for now, the Belgians are in and can celebrate, as they should.

– ForzaSusan

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