Origi scores late winner for Belgium vs. Russia
Twice now, Belgium has relied on a late revival boosted by stamina and its bench to turn desperate situations around at the World Cup. On Sunday, 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 center. A pinpoint pass from Hazard and cool right-foot finishing from the 19-year-old Origi gave Belgium the victory.
"Nobody could have thought this possible," said Origi, who was only called into the squad because No. 1 striker Christian Benteke injured his Achilles in April. Most of Belgium barely knew of the talented young player developing quickly for Lille in the French league.
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.
"We got the last pass wrong, or shot too quickly," Russia coach Fabio Capello said. "The result was unfair, but the fact is we lost."
Belgium moved to six points with the win, five ahead of Russia and South Korea — the Koreans were playing Algeria later Sunday.
"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 defense-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 center of midfield.
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.
Belgium captain Vincent Kompany recovered from a groin strain to play a polished first half, but the surprise call-up of defender Thomas Vermaelen to start the game backfired and forced a first-half change.
The Arsenal defender injured his knee in the warmup and lasted only 31 minutes before limping off.
"That was my only big setback today," Wilmots said.
South Korea blames defensive lapses for defeat
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — For the man who led South Korea's defense during its journey to the World Cup semifinals in 2002, the performance of the team's backline and goalkeeper against Algeria on Sunday must have been particularly hard to watch.
It seemed all too easy for Algeria, which scored three goals in the first 40 minutes.
"Ultimately, we lacked concentration, and we weren't able to respond to the Algerian attack with intelligence," said Hong Myung-Bo, who was a central defender in four South Korean World Cup squads and is now coach of the national team. "Right from the beginning, it was the defense that crumbled. It was not well organized."
With a squad containing a sprinkling of players with experience in the best European leagues, South Korea has progressed past the group stage in two of the last three World Cups, reaching the semifinals as co-host in 2002 and the last 16 in 2010. The 4-2 loss Sunday means further progress this time looks unlikely from Group H.
Having drawn its opening match against Russia 1-1, the team must beat Belgium handily in its last game, and hope the result of Algeria-Russia also goes its way.
Algeria took the lead after striker Islam Slimani was able to collect a long ball and run unchallenged into the area. Two minutes later, keeper Jung Sung-ryong left his line to meet a corner but failed to collect, allowing Rafik Halliche a free header on goal.
On 38 minutes, another long ball was met by Slimani on the left. He pulled it back to unmarked Abdelmoumene Djabout, who side-footed first time past Jung.
In the second half, Slimani and Yacini Brahimi sliced the defense apart with a quick passing exchange before Algeria notched its fourth.
The defense wasn't the only weak point in the South Korean game. The midfield struggled to keep possession during the first half and was well contained when it sought to move the ball forward. The Korean statistics at halftime were especially damming: not one shot on goal.
After pulling a goal back soon after the interval, Hong took off Park Chu-young, the former star of South Korean football who failed to shine at Arsenal, and replaced him with Kim Shin-wook. But that had little impact on the outcome.
Hong, regarded as one of Asia's greatest players, apologized to the fans in the stadium and took responsibility for the poor showing.
"Everything that we did during our preparation for the match was done on my direction. I think our players did their best until the end," he said. "We still have a match left. We have to bounce back quickly and get ready for that next one."