Belgium vs Russia match report World Cup 2014: Divock Origi scores late winner to deepen Fabio Capello plight
Belgium 1 Russia 0
Sunday 22 June 2014
Belgium have at least done the hard part, but made very hard work of it. Fabio Capello, meanwhile, is not finding World Cups any easier. His Russia need quite a reversal to prevent another underwhelming early elimination.
By beating the Italian’s side 1-0 with a late Divock Origi goal, Belgium have reached the second round and all but secured first place in the group. They cannot now be labelled the flops some had predicted they would be after so much pre-tournament hype. At the same time, they are still not the fluent attacking side they can be.
It certainly wasn’t the most fluent match. Other than occasional Russian breaks, the only real moment of sleek quality to match the rest of this World Cup came when Eden Hazard shook off the tactical shackles to brilliantly tear down the left and set up Origi for the 88th-minute winner.
It was flash of premium quality in a game that had the Maracana crowd chanting “second division” out of sheer boredom. That was another parallel with previous tournaments for Capello, given the dreariness of England’s football in 2010. Yet, when the chants were put to him, his response raised eyebrows: “I thought it was an excellent match, played at a great pace and great intensity.”
The defeat will intensify questions about the disparity between Capello’s supreme club achievements and suspect international career. At the same time, he was absolutely correct when he claimed the result was “unfair” and Russia had been unlucky.
There were some elements of fortune to Belgium’s eventual win. For one, there was Alexander Kokorin’s awful miss just before half-time. The striker somehow headed wide from just yards out. Had that gone in, it might have been different, especially given how flat Belgium had been up to that point.
Then there was the nature of the winning goalscorer’s very selection, even if the 19-year-old Origi is obviously such a lively talent. Marc Wilmots, the Belgium manager, specifically mentioned that the Lille forward would not have been selected had Christian Benteke been fit.
“Without Benteke’s injury, Divock would not be here,” Wilmots admitted. “I’m not surprised he did well. You can see his qualities: technical, quick.”
Similarly, Origi might not have come on had Romelu Lukaku managed to replicate his Everton form. The on-loan Chelsea striker was hauled off shortly after half-time for the second game in a row. Lukaku was enraged with his manager’s decision, but Wilmots sought to play his reaction down. “Yes, and so what?” the Belgian coach said when asked in his press conference. “It’s not a problem. That’s normal. It happened to me as well [as a player]. He had to go to the bench after 55 minutes, of course he’s not happy.
“I haven’t talked to him yet... but the truth of today is not always the truth of tomorrow. We’ll have to wait and see. Of course, if he scores a goal, everybody would be pleased with him.”
Lukaku was poor again
That conditional does perhaps point to a deeper concern. Lukaku may have verbally expressed himself on being taken off, but he could not express himself on the pitch. The system may not allow it. This Belgium team still feel like a loose collection of individuals rather than an actual side. There remains some doubt about Wilmots’ ability to truly maximise their talent, as he continues to place some lively players in a flat 4-2-3-1.
It was not just Lukaku who did not look himself. Dries Mertens was trying to make things happen on his own, Hazard was completely isolated until finally bringing himself into the game late on almost through his own force.
“We didn’t play a very good match,” the Chelsea playmaker conceded. “The last 10 minutes were good, that’s all.”
Wilmots couldn’t deny that, but did argue that it points to his side’s resilience. Similarly, there was their freshness. The manager deserves credit for the way in which his substitutes changed the game, but also hinted that they may have been better prepared than Capello’s team.
“Physically we were stronger,” Wilmots said. “You could see some of the Russian players were looking at their feet. We were fresher, better in the last 10-15 minutes. We’ve prepared our players for the last four weeks and we could see our players were fresher until the end.”
That could be another echo with 2010, given how jaded Capello’s England appeared four years ago. The Belgians were not completely energetic throughout, it has to be said but, as their manager pointed out , youth is also on their side.
“This is the second youngest team in the World Cup but we are mature. I tell them not to be nervous, to be patient.”
They don’t have to wait for qualification. They are in the last 16. Everyone else, however, is waiting for them to show their best.
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