Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (4E Sports) – Substitute Divock Origi delivered a late goal as Belgium booked a place in the last 16 of the World Cup to a thrilling 1-0 win over Russia in their Group H showdown Sunday at Maracana Stadium.
Marc Wilmots’ side looked set to suffer frustration after looking short of ideas against Fabio Capello’s well-organized team.
However, 19-year-old Origi came off the bench to grab an 88th-minute winner — his first international goal — and secure a spot for Belgium in Group H with a game to spare.
This marked the first time that Belgium advanced to the last 16 for the first time since 2002.
Two substitutes — Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens — combined to help Belgium come from behind to beat Algeria in their first match, and another change paid dividends for Wilmots on this occasion, leaving Russia stunned.
Before Origi’s strike, Belgium had hit the post through Kevin Mirallas, while Russia striker Aleksandr Kokorin spurned the best chance of the first half when heading wide from an unmarked position.
The Russians, who were held by South Korea in their opening game, face Algeria in their final match badly needing a win to have any chance of advancing to the next round.
After scoring against Algeria, Wilmots rewarded Fellaini and Mertens with places in the Belgium starting line-up, at the expense of Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembele.
Alexei Kozlov and Maxim Kanunnikov came into the Russia side, with Andrey Yeshchenko and Yuri Zhirkov dropping to the bench.
Belgium made a positive start, but it was Thibaut Courtois who made the first save of the game when he got down well to keep out Viktor Fayzulin’s left-footed strike from just outside the penalty area 11 minutes in.
Mertens was proving to be a real handful for the Russia defense and the Napoli winger fired wide with his right foot after an incisive run.
Russia could have had a penalty when Kanunnikov went down under a challenge from Toby Alderweireld in the penalty area, but referee Felix Brych waved play on.
Mertens remained Belgium’s biggest threat and Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev had to be alert to palm the winger’s cross away after he cut in from the right at full tilt.
Yet Russia should have been in front two minutes before the break, when an unmarked Kokorin could only head Denis Glushakov’s inviting cross wide of the target.
Wilmots replaced the ineffective Romelu Lukaku with Origi 10 minutes into the second half in an attempt to gain some impetus.
Yeshchenko came close 10 minutes from time when he shot wide of the far post, while Mirallas then rattled the post with a free-kick.
Russia was stunned two minutes from time as Eden Hazard embarked on a fine run to the byline and cut the ball back for Origi, who was on hand to fire home and see Belgium through.