World Cup: Belgium secure last-16 spot after 1-0 Group H win over Russia
Last Updated: 22/06/14 8:13pm
Belgium booked their place in the knock-out stages of the World Cup after second-half substitute Divock Origi secured a 1-0 win over Russia at the Maracana Stadium.
In a largely forgettable game, Dries Mertens was rewarded with a start after his winning goal against Algeria and he looked the most likely to open the scoring for Belgium in the opening 45 minutes, working his way into the area on a number of occasions but often lacking an end product.
Russia were mainly reduced to efforts from distance in the first half, but they came closest to opening the deadlock just before the break when Aleksandr Kokorin glanced a header wide from a pin-point Denis Glushakov cross.
In the second half, substitute Andrei Yeschenko came the closest for Fabio Capello’s side as he drilled a low effort just wide of the post, while Everton’s Kevin Mirallas stepped off the bench to smash the post with a low free-kick.
But 19-year-old striker Origi, who had replaced the frustrated Romelu Lukaku in attack, slammed the ball beyond Igor Akinfeev after some excellent work from Eden Hazard down the left to secure Belgium's place in the last-16.
Russia could count themselves unfortunate after matching Belgium until the final minutes, and nearly drew first blood.
Zenit St Petersburg striker Victor Fayzulin fired in a low curling shot with his left foot, but Thibaut Courtois was able to get a strong arm to it and keep the match scoreless.
Kevin de Bruyne's scorching run took him past three challenges and the former Chelsea midfielder laid the ball off perfectly for Mertens, who tried to find Lukaku rather than shooting and Russian skipper Vasily Berezutskiy came to the rescue.
Mertens then ran at the Russian defence himself twice in as many minutes, but on both occasions he sent his shot whistling a yard wide.
It was not all Belgium, however, as Maksim Kanunnikov cut in from the left and brought a decent save out of Courtois, before Mertens once again beat Dmitry Kombarov, this time via a nutmeg, but once again Lukaku could not get on the end of this cross.
Thomas Vermaelen's match then ended after 31 minutes - he had clashed knees with Vincent Kompany in the warm-up and he was replaced by Jan Vertonghen at left-back.
After being pinned back for a lengthy period, the Russians ended the first half on top.
Fayzulin volleyed over from a corner before Kokorin missed the best chance of the half, the Dinamo Moscow striker heading wide from the edge of the six-yard box after Glushakov had picked him out beautifully.
The second half drifted ever further into the doldrums, with Russia having half chances when Sergei Ignashevich flicked a header over and substitute Yeshchenko fired in a shot from the right that just missed the far post.
The introduction of Mirallas for Mertens appeared to change the course of the game and the Everton winger rattled the post from a free-kick before Hazard's incisive run promised another chance for Belgium, but his strike was deflected over the bar.
Finally there was another bit of Hazard magic, weaving his way down the right for substitute Origi - making only his fourth appearance - to slam home first time.