BELGIUM scraped through to the World Cup knockout stage for the first time in 12 years yesterday thanks to a late goal from substitute Divock Origi.
Having failed to qualify for the last two tournaments, Marc Wilmots’s so-called golden generation arrived in Brazil hoping to make up for lost time. Yet they made hard work of an opening 2-1 win against Algeria, only scoring in the final 20 minutes, and edged over the line again against Russia with a powerful strike from their 19-year-old rookie.
Russia created the best opening of a keenly contested first half when Aleksandr Kokorin headed Denis Glushakov’s cross inches wide.
Fabio Capello’s team went close again midway through the second half when Andrei Yeschenko fired wide across goal following a flowing counter attack.
But Belgium finally stepped up a gear in the final five minutes. Everton winger Kevin Mirallas saw a low free-kick bounce back off the post after goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev had been left wrong-footed.
And, two minutes from time, Origi, who had replaced ineffective Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku on 57 minutes, blasted in the winner after winger Eden Hazard dazzled down the left flank and picked out his man with a precise pass from the byline.
Mirallas then wasted a chance to extend the winning margin, shooting straight at Akinfeev with Russia outnumbered in defence as they searched desperately for an equaliser.