Putting together two wins has been a struggle for sides at this World Cup – at this time of writing only Colombia, Argentina, France and Costa Rica have done so – but Belgium look capable of joining that club with victory over Russia to make the last 16. The Belgians were one of many sides to perform below expectations upon the opening weekend but after a couple of notable changed after a tight first half against Algeria, including the introduction of Dries Mertens especially, they improved rapidly and were probably value at the end for a 2-1 win.
Napoli’s Mertens was introduced along with Marouane Felliani, vastly improved from his English season with Manchester United and played in a role that suited him – off the striker, as a battering ram – made an immediate impact before scoring the equaliser with just 20 minutes to go after which Belgium scored once again. Russia’s first game against South Korea was distinctly underwhelming, with the Russians well fancied but going behind thanks to Igor Akifeev’s howler and while a draw was probably a deserved result – they just edged the game outside of those exchanges – they will need to raise their game far more.
The South Koreans had the better of the opening exchanges until the howler and while the Russians finished on top, they were docile and dormant in a game that was there for the winning. It remains to be see if Aleksandr Kokorincan have the same effect that he had from the start last week, but with a much stronger eleven, Belgium aren’t likely to be so forgiving and the Russians will have much more trouble getting past Thibaut Courtiois, Vincent Kompany and Daniel Van Buyten and going forward they should be far more effective with Metens on the field from the start. He threatened on every occasion against Algeria and can open up the game on the opposite side to Eden Hazard, while Kevin De Buryne provides running threat from midfield to give more edge to the Belgians than we saw against Algeria and Marc Wilmots’s side are good enough to seal knockout football.
3 pts Belgium (13/10 general)