Belgium went in to their second group fixture knowing that a win would secure qualification for the last sixteen. An experienced Russian side stood in their way.
A 1-0 win saw them just about overcome Russia. A very poor performance but a win and qualification none the less.
This young Belgian side though are tipped by many as dark horses for the tournament, it is time they started showing it.
Below is a player by player rating for the Belgian side.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois - The six foot six inch keeper looked in control throughout. He had little to do despite Russian pressure. He made two fairly routine saves during the match and never really looked as if he was in danger of conceding.
Concentration and quality when it mattered, the sign of a world class keeper - 8
Left Back: Thomas Vermaelen - A centre back playing at full back. This is Belgium's main weakness. Russia exploited the flanks during the game. Vermaelen was solid if not convincing before going off injured after thirty-one minutes.
Hugely frustrating for the Arsenal man - 6
Tottenham man Jan Vertonghen, replaced the injured Vermaelen. Equally he was defensively solid if not offering a great deal going forward - 6
Centre back: Vincent Kompany - The commanding leader had done well to recover from a groin strain before the game. He looked convincing throughout and made one particularly impressive tackle when one on one with a Russian forward. He stood his man up and regained possession for his side.
A world class player who will be pivotal to Belgium's campaign - 7
Centre back: Daniel Van Buyten - The veteran Bayern Munich defender was a surprise selection for both group games. He acquitted himself well and helped his side to a clean sheet.
His experience at the highest level could be key to guiding this young Belgian side safely through game after game - 7
Right Back: Toby Alderweireld - Another centre back playing at full back. Defensively he did not look at all convincing. He lost the ball far too frequently. And the Russian left hand side was by far their greatest source of success because of this. Crosses were allowed to be delivered far too easily. Belgium will have to address this.
He did though, show good attacking endeavor - 5
Central Midfield: Axel Witsel - The deepest of the three midfielders, he covered a lot of ground. His job was to break up the Russian play and sit in front of the back four protecting them. Equally he was tasked with distributing the ball well between midfield and attack.
Russia grew in to the game and he was largely ineffective. Belgium did not have a foothold in midfield - 5
Central Midfield: Marouane Fellaini - He had a poor season with Manchester United. But for Belgium he plays in a more advanced role.
Tonight though he started off too advanced. He should have started deeper so that Belgium could retain possession and then launch an attack, getting forward later.
You cannot score goals without the ball - 5
Central Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne - Sold by Chelsea earlier in the year and accused of starting games well but then disappearing, he was a shining light in the midfield, regularly finding the Belgian wingers with effective through balls. A good passing game ensured that he had a hand in the few chances that Belgium created during the match.
He played more as a box to box midfielder which was surprising. But his defensive efforts were commendable too - 7
Left Attacker: Eden Hazard - For large parts of the game he could not get involved. And he did not come inside to look for the ball either, he needs to do so in future games if Belgium start slowly like they did.
When some momentum was gained however his first touch was sublime. He beat Russian defenders on regular occasion and caused havoc. On eighty-nine minutes he beat another defender, roamed in to the box and cut back to create a goal for Belgium.
A threat to any defence, if he fires then Belgium can go all the way - 8
Centre Forward: Romelu Lukaku - Isolated through the entire match. The Belgian's did not supply him with any ball let alone quality ball.
However he did not help himself. His movement was poor and he failed to provide any outlet for the Belgian midfield. A very poor performance. Perhaps still nursing an injury which he picked up before the tournament?
He was rightly replaced on 56 minutes - 4
Lille youngster, Divock Origi, replaced the disappointing Romelu Lukaku. He also had little ball to work with. However when he did have his chance and Eden Hazard cut the ball back to him, he converted with aplomb. A powerful finish broke the deadlock for Belgium. And gave his side a crucial win - 7
Right Attacker: Dries Mertens - Belgium's best player in their first fixture and was so again in the first half of this encounter. De Bruyne found him on several occasions and he was a tricky customer. His clever footwork was impressive and created space for others.
The only thing lacking in his game was end product, he'll have to work on this in future games - 7
Kevin Mirallas replaced Mertens on seventy-five minutes. He was not in the game until he struck a good looking free kick on to the Russian post. So close to breaking the deadlock.
A non eventful performance - 6
Belgium overcame Russia 1 0. They lacked a foothold in midfield and any control of the ball. Tempo, quality and their final ball/end product were poor. Defensively they looked vulnerable down the flanks and the centre backs asked to play full back were not convincing. This could be their undoing.
However so far in this World Cup they have played two poor matches. Yet they top the group with six points. The sign of any good team is to win while playing badly. Belgium are doing that.
With a spine of Courtois, Kompany, De Bruyne and Hazard they have real quality. The dark horses progress and no side will want to be drawn along side them in the last sixteen.
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