SAO PAULO - Jan Vertonghen led 10-man Belgium to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday that gave them top place in their World Cup group and ended Asian hopes in the competition.
The stand-in captain hit the winner 12 minutes from time as Belgium finished with a perfect three wins in Group H. They now play the United States in the last 16.
South Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-Gyu could only parry a fierce shot by substitute Divock Origi and it went to the feet of Vertonghen, who buried the rebound and leapt into the stands to celebrate.
Belgian coach Marc Wilmots dismissed criticism over the style of the victory and said his team had "made history" by winning all three group games.
"We fulfilled our mission with nine points," he said. "It's never happened before and what's important for me is whether we can get into the quarter-finals. I don't care about anything else." South Korea had needed a big win to stand any chance of qualifying, and they were given hope when Steven Defour was sent off for a stamp just before half-time.
But they failed to create clear-cut opportunities and depart the tournament winless, as did regional rivals Japan, Iran and Australia.
"My goal was not to have any regrets. I think we weren't good enough but we nevertheless did our best," said South Korean coach Hong Myung-Bo.
"More than anything, I think it was important for our players to play on such a big stage and gain experience." Wilmots made seven changes from the team that beat Russia 1-0, giving Manchester United 19-year-old Adnan Januzaj his World Cup debut, to keep players fresh for the knock-out stages.
South Korea showed urgency at the start and had two hopeful penalty shouts waved away before Kim Young-Gwon, receiving the ball in the area from a free-kick, blasted off-target.
Son Heung-Min received a great through-ball but was quickly closed down. Belgium showed little threat although Kevin Mirallas, bursting on to a pass from former Everton teammate Marouane Fellaini, had a goal chalked off for offside.