World Cup: Origi-nal poacher

World Cup: Origi-nal poacher

GROUP H

BELGIUM 1 (Divock Origi 88)

RUSSIA 0

 

It was substitute Divock Origi who smashed home the winner with just two minutes to play, plunging Russia's campaign into chaos.

At this rate, Fabio Capello's team could be going home early. There are few who would say that they deserve anything else.

Initially, Group H had looked like one of the more intriguing of the World Cup pools, an effervescent mix of the best of East and West, youth and experience. Instead, it's become something of a quagmire.

Belgian boss Marc Wilmots has been under pressure for some time, burdened with expectations for a golden generation.

But while his key players have been poor, his substitutions have been excellent. Two changes brought two goals against Algeria last week.

This time, it was replacement Origi who made the difference. Wilmots seems to have a knack for this.

Surprisingly, Capello resisted the temptation to drop Igor Akinfeev after his calamitous error against South Korea.

Somewhere Rob Green, dropped by the Italian after a similar mistake for England in 2010, must have glowered. Russia, with only two changes to their last team, were much as they were last week, cautious and soporific.

Belgium, underwhelming but ultimately successful against Algeria, made three changes to their line-up, promoting last week's goalscorers Marouane Fellaini and Dries Merten, while swapping Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen with Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen.

It was a short-lived change. Vermaelen was withdrawn after half an hour having aggravated a problem he'd picked up in the warm-up.

Vertonghen was given an unexpected second chance.

Manager Wilmots pushed Fellaini up to support Romelu Lukaku, with Kevin de Bruyne dropping deep to help Alex Witsel in the midfield. Initially, the big Manchester United midfielder looked dangerous, but it wasn't long before Capello had tightened his lines and removed the threat.

There were few highlights in a drab first half, even fewer after the break.

Dries Mertens justified his inclusion with a number of jinking runs through a static backline, but he found little support from his team-mates and was similarly neutralised in the second half.

Russia's best chance came from Alexander Kokorin, one of only a handful of young players in the squad.

The Dynamo Moscow forward should have done far better when he found himself between Daniel van Buyton and Vincent Kompany, but the young Russian forward could only head Denis Glushakov's cross beyond the post.

Lukaku paid the price for Belgium's flat performance, withdrawn on the hour for the second game running. He stormed to the dugout and seemed to exchange words with his manager, shaking his head in dismay.

But there was no defending the scarcity of his performance. He barely contributed at all.

Jose Mourinho, who controversially sent the young striker on loan for the season, has been vindicated by these performances.

This was a wretched game that seemed to be heading for a predictable conclusion. But once again, Wilmots changed the game.

He, at least, is having a very impressive tournament. Belgium, tipped by so many people to be the dark horses of the summer, are still less than the sum of their parts.

Never mind the maximum points, if they don't improve sharply when the knockout games begin, they will be picked off by better teams than Russia.

 

 npsports@sph.com.sg

 


This article was first published on June 23, 2014.
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