Belgium vs Russia - Formations
Belgium vs Russia – Formations

A late goal from Divock Origi secured Belgium a crucial victory by sending them to the pre-quarterfinals. Belgium did not put too much effort in the early stages and just geared up their work rate in the final 15 minutes to break open the deadlock in the 88th minute. Russia had a couple of good chances to open the scoring. Kokorin missed headed wide from point blank range just before the half time whistle.

Marc Wilmots made 3 changes to his side – Thomas Vermaelen coming in for Jan Vertnghen (Vertonghen was unconvincing in Left back position against Algeria), Marouane Fellaini for Moussa Dembele and Dries Mertens for Nacer Chadli. Fabio Capello made 2 changes to his side – Aleksei Lozlov started ahead of Andrey Eshchenko. Yuri Zhirkov was also benched and Maksim Kanunnikov was selected.

Formations –

Both the teams started out with 4-2-3-1 system. Russia followed a defensive style whereas Belgium were open and offensive.

Belgium’s approach-

Both the teams started out with 4-2-3-1 system. Russia followed a defensive style whereas Belgium were open and offensive.
Belgium were very careful in their approach towards Russia. They did press very much. Played a slow passing game. Even during the breaks, compared to their other matches, they were slow. Open up and provided space for Russia in the midfield.
It looked like they were saving the energy to go all out on Russia in the final stages. According to my calculations –

Goals scored in first half and second half
Goals scored in first half and second half

Goals scored in the last 20 minutes
Goals scored in the last 20 minutes

So far in this tournament, 59.52 % of the total goals were scored in the second half and 32.14% of total goals were netted in the last 20 minutes. [Total goals – 84] (including Bel vs Rus)

In the hot and humid conditions of Brazil, teams playing high tempo and constant attacking game are bound to be fatigued faster than their opponents. Crucial substitutions and change in tactics is enough to open up such a team. This is the reason for why we have witnessed so many comeback victories in this tournament.

Belgium, in order to keep their players fresh for the ending stages of the game, were happy to allow the Russians do all the hard work in the first. key

Belgium had some defensive problems. Belgian back four lacked co-ordination. Kokorin’s free header in the 44th minute was due to a misunderstanding between Vincent Kompany and Vertonghen. Neither of them marked the Russian striker. Vermaelen, who was subbed off in the 30th minute, was caught out by Aleksandr Samedov a few times. He was immobile and never went higher up the pitch like a natural wingback. Toby Alderweireld was also almost gifted a penalty to Russia when he brought down Kanunnikov inside the box.

Fellaini’s forward runs raised a few tactical questions. His runs left space in the midfield region which de Bruyne had to fill by dropping deeper. Fellaini launched his forward runs even when Russia had the ball leaving Axel Witsel as the lone defensive midfielder.

Lukaku’s performance was very poor. He was never in the right position to receive a perfect ball. He was not able to hold up the for longer periods. Christian Benteke – his physicality and confidence – was dearly missed by Belgium.

Belgium relying too much on Mertens –

Mertens played along the right wing and was constantly sought by his teammates while attacking. To relieve the pressure due to Russian pressing, players on the Belgian left flank switched play to the right flank a number of times. Due to closing down or non-appearance of Romelu Lukaku in right positions, Mertens had no other choice but to shoot the ball. He also received 3 goal-scoring passes. Lack of support meant Belgium were unable to get the best out of him.

Passes received by Mertens - Four Four Two Stats Zone
Passes received by Mertens – Four Four Two Stats Zone


Playing as one of the two holding midfielders, Faizulin had a tough job of filling Roman Shirkov, a talented goal scoring midfielder who was left out of Russia’s WC squad due to an injury. Faizulin, according to me, did his best. Tactically he was very sound – staying back while defending, surging forward to support the attacking midfielders while attacking.

Faizulin dashboard - Four Four Two Stats Zone.
Faizulin dashboard – Four Four Two Stats Zone.

Belgium’s domination in the last 10 minutes –

Belgium, the dark horses were powerless to open up Russia. Russia, on the other hand, were presented with a few good chances – due to defensive errors, high pressing – which they were unable to convert into goals. But in the final stage of the match, Belgium changed their mentality. Introduction of Kevin Mirallas and Origi proved decisive for them. Mirallas hit his free kick against the pole in the 84th minute, Hazard cut in once and crossed the ball once from a wide range – Belgium were back on track. In the 88th minute, while counter attacking, Kevin de Bruyne’s long pass was collected by Origi who passed it to Hazard. The left wing maestro dribbled past two players and passed the ball back to Origi who was completely unmarked – GOAL.

Belgium attacking dashboard (80th  minute onwards) - Four Four Two Stats Zone
Belgium attacking dashboard (80th minute onwards) – Four Four Two Stats Zone

Conclusion –

Belgium made the most of the weather conditions to bag all the three points. But from a tactical point of view they committed more mistakes and were off the mark. Russia should have included Kerzhakov in their starting XI. It looked like Capello’s intention was to get a draw.

Verdict –

Man of the Match – Eden Hazard.

Flop of the match – Romelu Lukaku.


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