RIO DE JANEIRO – Gp H: Belgium 1, Russia 0
—- Substitute Divock Origi broke a tediously poor deadlock in then nick of the time to push Belgium into the second round and leave Fabio Capello’s Russians teetering on the brink.
It was not as if the Russians did not have their chances. Alexander Kokorin missed the best chance of a poor first half when he glanced a ‘free’ header wide wide from eight metres.
Belgium showed any meaningful only in the closing stages when substitute Kevin Mirallas hit a post. Remarkably, that was Belgium’s first shot on target. Origi then provided a second from a left-ing cross from the hitherto sulky Eden Hazard.
All three of Belgium’s goals have been scored by substitutes.
Russia’s hopes of following them into the last 16 now hinge on their final group match against Algeria. Capello’s side were better than in their 1-1 draw with South Korea but still lacked a cutting edge.
Origi, 19, had impressed when he came off the bench in the opening 2-1 victory over Algeria and again the Lille forward impressed when he replaced an unhappy Romelu Lukaku early in the second half.
Another player who did well coming on in the second half against Algeria was right winger Dries Mertens who was handed a starting place and offered all of Belgium’s threat down the right in the first half.
The Napoli winger had an effort blocked after a fine run and, following Kevin de Bruyne’s surge forward, attempted to feed Lukaku rather than shooting from a good position.
Mertens drove wide of goal after another impressive break but other than that Russia were barely troubled in a slow opening half.
They went close themselves when Viktor Fayzluin’s low effort was pushed away by Thibaut Courtois, who also made a scrambling stop from Maksim Kanunikov.
Kokorin should have opened the scoring just before the interval but he glanced a header wide at the far post from Denis Glushakov’s fine cross.
Glushakov thumped a wild effort off target from a narrow angle as the second half started at an even lower tempo with both sides appearing content with a draw.
Andrey Eschenko dragged an effort wide after a decent Russian move, then Everton winger Mirallas was denied by the foot of a post.
Hazard drove wide after breaking into the area but the Chelsea forward made a more decisive contribution in the 88th minute, breaking down the left flank and pulling back for Origi to score.
Belgium manager Marc Wilmots said: “Origi is in a good space right now. He’s 19 years old. It was a bit of a surprise since he was an unknown before I selected him. Now everyone knows who he is.
“It was a hard game because the Russians were expecting us – the players were tired, it was hot, the Russians were already cramping up after 60 minutes. It was not an easy match but I think we deserved to win it.”
Opposite number Capello was “very happy” with the performance of his team but unhappy with an “unfair” result.
He said: “The truth is we had chances to win it but we lost. Both teams gave it their all and unfortunately it was Belgium that was able to make it.
“We have to look forward and I said when we came to play in this World Cup after being absent for 12 years that this will be a great help for us to understand the level we need to be at in future competitions.”