RIO DE JANEIRO — 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.