Story of the game
With both sides flattering to deceive in their first matches in the group stage, this clash was crucial to determine the dominant team in Group H. Whether it was nerves or heat we cannot know, but something had a derogatory effect on the quality both sets of players were able to produce. Napoli’s Dries Mertens was the only real bright spark to begin with. Helooked lively early on in the game, taking on Kombarov at left – back on several occasions. Decision making at the final stage could be called into question, as although his shots and crosses were dangerous to Russia, the choices were often incorrect.
Russia grew into the game as time went on, showing some neat play in central midfield areas and to provide crossing opportunities down the flanks. The fact that these moments stood out really goes to show how scrappy the first 45 minutes really were.
Just before the break, Russia missed a fantastic opportunity to go one goal ahead with a golden chance falling to Russia’s number nine. Kokorin had a free header six yards out, having been left free by Kompany and Vertonghen, but could only glance the header a yard or two wide of the far post.
The second half did not start much better than the first, with the most talented players on the pitch still failing to have a meaningful effect on proceedings. Lukaku’s disappointing game came to an end when he was hauled off early in the second period. Origi seemed to be more motivated and drove at the Russian back line with pace rather than the lumbering disinterest that had typified the Chelsea striker’s performance. It was at this point that the match began to flow in Belgium’s favour.
Russian resolve was weakening and if there was to be a goal, it seemed only possible that it would go to a red shirt. In a typical performance from a Fabio Capello side, the primary aim appeared to not lose rather than aspire to win. This cost them in the end as Belgian belief grew and they pushed for a winner. Launching attack after attack in a strong spell eventually paid off when a break down the left culminated in the ball being cleverly pulled back for Origi who had found some space for himself. The pacey youngster made no mistake in finding the roof of the net and Russia were left with no time to score an equaliser.
1. Thibaut Courtois – 6. Didn’t have much to do all game, mainly down to ineffectual Russian finishing. Expect him to have to be on his game later though, and I fully believe he will not let his side down.
2. Toby Alderweireld – 6. For a centre half by trade, he performed remarkably well at right back. Obviously adds strength in the air but did not look too incapable of providing a quality service to Mertens or Mirallas.
15. Daniel Van Buyten – 7. Russian attackers did not test his weaknesses; darting runs and turning him, instead focusing on what we know he can do well. Aerially secure and tactically sound, he performed well but will face tougher examinations.
4. Vincent Kompany – 7. Played his usual front-foot style of defending and a slight lack of Russian ambition meant that he was never really caught out. He occasionally let Kokorin run free in the box but the forward couldn’t capitalise.
3. Thomas Vermaelen – 5. A few solid headers and clearances put in before an injury forced him to leave the field.
6. Axel Witsel – 6. In the team to dictate the tempo of the game but didn’t quite manage to do that. He was tidy enough in possession but will need to do more for Belgium to go through the knockout rounds.
8. Marouane Fellaini – 6.
7. Kevin De Bruyne – 6. Bright in flashes, but couldn’t provide the cutting edge necessary. He floated between positions and Russia struggled to pick him up but the required incision wasn’t present.
14. Dries Mertens – 7. The brightest player for either side in the first half, and looked the only one who was really trying to create a goal. He faded slightly in the second half and was replaced by Mirallas, but he could be very important for Belgium in the knockout rounds.
10. Eden Hazard – 7. Didn’t influence the game as much as we know he can, and possibly should, but still always had Russian defenders on the back foot. He became more of a threat later on when the opposition tired and more space was present.
9. Romelu Lukaku – 5. Another poor game from the Chelsea forward. He looked disinterested and frequently made no exertions to look for space. Hauled off early in the second half again, as in the first group match.
5. Jan Vertonghen – 6. Replaced the injured Vermaelen and did add an air of calm to the left side of defence. His composure on the ball fits Belgium’s style of play.
17. Divock Origi – 7. Added a zip and determination that was completely absent while Lukaku was on the pitch. Gave Russian defenders a new problem to deal with, and good movement followed by an emphatic finish won the game for Belgium.
11. Kevin Mirallas – 6. Came on to add thrust to Belgium’s attack and for his finishing prowess. He did hit the post a few minutes before his team hit the winner and certainly helped to improve the team for the 15 minutes or so that he was on the pitch.
1. Igor Akinfeev – 6. A few early claims of the ball from crosses helped put to bed the nerves he must have felt following the horrendous error against South Korea, and in general he didn’t play too badly without a great deal to do.
2. Aleksei Kozlov –
14. Vasili Berezutsky – 6. Part of the veteran pair at centre half and he marshalled the ineffective Lukaku well, but Origi gave him more trouble.
4. Sergei Ignashevic – 6. Used his experience to great effect in order to repel Belgian attacks for almost the entire duration of the game.
23. Dmitri Kombarov – 5. Run ragged by Mertens in the first half and then Mirallas also started to produce opportunities from that side once on the pitch too.
8. Denis Glushakov – 5. Tried to rat around Hazard and De Bruyne but never really prevented attacks at source.
6. Maxim Kanunnikov – 7. Gave a lot more than Yuri Zhirkov had in the previous match and was dynamic going forward and back.
20. Viktor Fayzulin – 6. A decent shot from distance stung the palms of Thibaut Courtois but there was not a great deal else of note to his performance.
19. Aleksandr Samedov – 6. A favourite of Capello’s and a reliable figure was solid enough throughout the 90 minutes but with a defensive team set-up, couldn’t provide enough opportunities for Kokorin to capitalise on.
17. Oleg Shatov – 5. Should have tried to add a greater degree of quality and creativity but never really achieved it, and was replaced later on by Dzagoev to do just that.
9. Aleksandr Kokorin – 6. Missed a glaring opportunity with a free header from 6 yards out after a phenomenal ball in from the left wing, but other than that, he did link up reasonably well with the rest of his side.
22. Andrey Eshchenko – 6. Tried hard but didn’t possess the quality to seriously threaten Belgian stability.
10. Alan Dzagoev – 5. Not given much time by Capello to affect proceedings, but may well be deployed from the start against Algeria due to his creativity.
11. Aleksandr Kerzhakov – N/A.
Man of the Match
The game was a rather drab affair until the introduction of Divock Origi, with some good moments of skill and flair but nothing more. He is therefore my Man of the Match for the way that the youngster came onto the biggest stage, showed no fear, and turned the game on its head. A draw looked all the more likely while it was left to Lukaku as the primary goal threat, but Origi changed all that with his pace, determination, and movement. He may well be left on the bench for their final group game, but having already qualified from the group, this may be a ploy to try and build up Lukaku’s confidence. Wilmots has seen now from both group stage games that if his front line striker continues to misfire, he has an eager and able replacement waiting in the wings.