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RIO DE JANEIRO—Twice now, Belgium has relied on a late revival boosted by stamina and its bench to turn desperate situations around at the World Cup. Yesterday, it was teenager Divock Origi who turned a listless Belgian performance into a late 1-0 win over Russia, enough to qualify for the next round.
Belgium barely contained a reinvigorated Russia for most of the match, yet struck with a blistering late spurt of class and opportunism to turn a bad situation into a wild, fist-pumping celebration for coach Marc Wilmots and his team in the 88th minute.
“Why were we good in last 10 minutes? Simple, the others were tired,” said Wilmots. “The Russians were so tired they looked at their feet, and it offered us chances to counter.”
After its dour 1-1 draw with South Korea, Russia produced the kind of sparkle and dominance that most had been expected more from Belgium in front of 73,819 increasingly restless fans at Maracana stadium.
With Belgian King Philippe looking on, substitute Kevin Mirallas hit a freekick against the post in 84th minute, setting off the amazing turnaround. At first it appeared as if late flashes from Eden Hazard would only camouflage a dismal performance.
But then the playmaker made a move into the area on the left and spotted Origi free in the centre. A pinpoint pass from Hazard and cool right-foot finishing from the 19-year-old Origi gave Belgium the victory.
Belgium didn’t play with any real authority for most of the game on a bright, sunny afternoon in Rio, confounding predictions that it should be one of the teams to watch at the World Cup.
Instead, it was Russia applied most pressure in the second half and was let down by its blunt finishing touch. That helped give Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois his 100th professional clean sheet at age 22.
Belgium moved to six points with the win.
“Now we will build a party, but then it is back to work as of tomorrow,” Wilmots said.
Belgium could be considered lucky to go to halftime at 0-0, escaping a penalty in the 26th minute when German referee waved on play after defender Toby Alderweireld was late with a challenge on Maksim Kanunnikov in the area.
While most critics had been expecting a defence-oriented Russia against Belgium, Capello decided otherwise and the addition of 22-year-old Maksim Kanunnikov gave some zip to the team that it so badly lacked against South Korea.
Wilmots promoted his two substitute goalscorers from the 2-1 win over Algeria to the starting lineup and while Dries Mertens thrived on the right wing, Marouane Fellaini was sloppy and ineffectual in the centre of midfield.
World cup glance
USA 2 (Jermaine Jones 64, Clint Dempsey 81) vs Portugal 2 (Nani 5, Silvestre Varela 90+5)
Belgium 1 (Divock Origi 88) vs Russia 0
Korea 2 (Heung-Min Son 50, Ja-Cheol Koo 72) vs Algeria 4 (Islam Slimani 26, Rafik Halliche 28, Abdelmoumene 37, Yacine Brahimi 62)
Cameroon vs Brazil, Brasilia, 4 pm
Cameroon won the last meeting involving these sides, running out 1-0 victors when Samuel Eto’o scored a late winner during the 2003 Confederations Cup. However, Brazil won their only World Cup meeting - 3-0 in 1994.
Cameroon have hit 30 shots in this World Cup but only three of them have been on target. Cameroon have kept only one clean sheet in their last 18 World Cup games.
Brazil haven’t failed to top their World Cup group since the last tournament in South America (Argentina 1978).
Croatia vs Mexico, Recife, 4 pm
Mexico have won only seven of their 30 World Cup games against European opposition.
Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic has scored with both of his shots on target so far. Croatia have never won their final group game at a World Cup (D1 L2).
Mexico haven’t won their final group game at a World Cup since 1986 (on home soil).
Australia vs Spain, Curitiba, noon
This will be the first ever meeting between Australia and Spain.
Australia have only won one of their seven World Cup games against European opposition (2-1 v Serbia in 2010).
Spain have never lost all three matches in a World Cup group.
Tim Cahill has scored five of Australia’s 11 World Cup goals but is suspended for this game.
In winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, Spain conceded a total of six goals, one fewer than they have so far at World Cup 2014.
Netherlands vs Chile, Sao Paulo, noon
The Netherlands have failed to win their two matches against South American opposition when the World Cup has been held in South America (0-0 v Peru and 1-3 v Argentina in 1978).
The Dutch have won three of the last four World Cup games in which they’ve gone behind.
Netherlands have not lost a World Cup group match since 1994.
Chile have never won three successive World Cup matches within the same tournament.
Japan vs Colombia, Cuiaba, 4 pm
Greece vs Ivory Coast, Fortaleza, 4 pm
Italy vs Uruguay, Natal, noon
Costa Rica, Belo Horizonte, noon
Once Russia’s central defense of Sergey Ignashevich and Vasily Berezutskiy worked out how to control the Belgian passing combinations, momentum changed. And after the early massive cheers for Belgium from the crowd, shouts of “Ro-ssi-ya, Ro-ssi-ya,” took over. (AP)