World Cup 2014: Belgium insist best is yet to come after slow start

 

Rio de Janeiro

First came boos and whistles. And then, a Brazilian taunt cascaded down the stands of the Maracana stadium – “Little team, your place is in the second division.”

The Belgians had felt honoured to play at the famous stadium but the local fans did not exactly return the love during Belgium’s laboured 1-0 win over Russia on Sunday.

A day later, the Belgium squad was cherishing the two victories that have ensured their passage to the knockout phase ahead of tonight’s game against South Korea. But after much pre-tournament hype, fans will still be looking for more. How about a little style?

“There will always be something to complain about,” said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots yesterday and noted that fans of already eliminated Spain and England had more reason to be glum. “Pretty, pretty, pretty makes no one happy. We need to show efficiency. And we did exactly that.” So far only the Netherlands and France have been able to combine beauty with ruthless efficiency. Belgium have been doing just enough to win.

This World Cup is their moment to shed a reputation stretching back over four decades of thriving only on defensive play before scoring a single goal to steal victory. With classy players – from playmaker Eden Hazard to central defender Vincent Kompany and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne – it was time for a fundamental change. But as much as Belgium impressed during the qualification campaign, they have been underwhelming in Brazil.

Two late goals gave them a 2-1 win against Algeria and an 88th-minute strike a 1-0 win over Russia that secured passage into the next round.

Twice, Wilmots argued, the opposition had to be worn down with possession play before the breakthrough could come. While it has not been pretty, it has delivered the points. Wilmots assured that the best was yet to come. “The tournament starts for real now,” he said. “We are in the second round.”

A lot of that beauty is supposed to come from the feet of Hazard. So far, he has waited until very late to produce the goods. “We weren’t at our usual 100 per cent,” Hazard acknowledged. “With time, we will try and produce better matches and develop more beautiful games.”

The only problem, of course, is that in the knockout phase, efficiency becomes even more essential. That alone could stifle creativity. Wilmots only needs to remember his last campaign as player, when Belgium lost in the second round against Brazil at the 2002 World Cup. “We played beautiful football then. But we were quickly eliminated. I know what I prefer,” he said.

Algeria, who play Russia tonight, are in prime position to join Belgium in the last 16, needing a point to progress (barring a South Korean miracle). However, Yacine Brahimi believes attacking is the only way to guarantee progress.

“We played some very attacking football against Korea and we need to repeat that against Russia,” said the midfielder. “It won’t be easy but it wasn’t easy [against Korea] either and that didn’t stop us from keeping our calm and playing some good football.”

Russia go into the match in Curitiba needing a win, although to guarantee a place in the last 16 they would have to match any victory South Korea achieved. “We were all disappointed about conceding late on against Belgium but we’ve still got a chance of continuing in the tournament,” the full-back Aleksei Kozlov said. “While that’s the case we can’t start thinking about anything else.”

Who goes through?

Belgium have already qualified, while Algeria will join them if they beat Russia tonight, or get a point and South Korea fail to beat Belgium. The Russians progress with victory over Algeria, provided Korea don’t better their scoreline as they play the Belgians – a result that would qualify the Koreans.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?