FINAL: Belgium 1, Russia 0
Both teams were locked in a 0-0 stalemate before Belgian wizard Eden Hazard found Divock Origi cutting towards the goal in the 88th minute. Hazard fed the second-half sub (on for the ineffective Romelu Lukaku) and Origi, 19, buried the Belgians' best chance all morning.
The win guarantees a spot in the knockout rounds for Belgium, after its opening-match 2-1 win over Algeria. Russia, now with just one point, will face Algeria in the final match but it will also need help from Belgium against South Korea.
The game began at a furious pace but slowed considerably as exhaustion set in. Russia botched its best chance late in the first half when Alexander Kokorin couldn't find the goal off a perfect cross with his head. A late blast that darted across the box from sub Andrey Eshchenko would be their best chance in the second half.
Defenses dominated as neither team could string together many passes inside the box. The Russians played outstanding defense against Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne, while Belgium's defense thwarted Russia's strong attacking midfield. It didn't necessarily live up to the billing of the best Group H match, but Belgium is through knowing it took care of business.
Belgium is in line to win Group H which should be of interest to US fans since the best from H faces the No. 2 from Group G in the knockout rounds.
Origi's 88th-minute goal:
92' -- Hazard drops another dime to Mirallas, but he can't finish a wide-open shot from the right side. Just need to hold on now.
90'+ -- Three minutes of added time.
90' -- Samedov off, striker Kerzhakov on.
You'll remember that Hazard assisted on a breakaway goal against Algeria as well. Origi's goal may also earn him a spot in the starting XI as Lukaku has done next to nothing.
88' -- GOALLLL!!! BELGIUM!!! Origi finishes off a lightning-fast counter attack by knocking in a pass from Hazard just in front of the goal. Hazard's vision ... again.
85' -- Hazard coming alive in the past few minutes. Dances around in the box and nearly rifles off a goal towards the top right corner. Got shot off despite four defenders tailing him.
SUB: Dzagoev in at midfield for Shatov.
84' -- OFF THE POST FOR MIRALLAS as the seeing-eye shot skids through the wall and the box. Closest Belgium has come all day.
82' -- Handball against Russia juuust outside the box. Huge chance here. Mirallas on the ball.
80' -- So here's what we're working with. If Belgium wins, they book a spot in the knockout rounds. A Russian draw gives them two points and a final match against Algeria (so... winnable). A Belgian draw gvies it four points with a final match against South Korea. Neither side would complain about a draw, but obviously, Russia could use the three points more than Belgium could.
77' -- Nine guys back for Belgium on defense. Pace of this game has slowed considerably as the players look exhausted.
76' -- Lots of walking from the Belgian defense. Russia has them on their heels.
75' -- SUB: Mertens out, Mirallas in. Not a huge impact in the second half for Mertens. Marc Wilmots probably just wants some fresh legs.
73' -- Alderweireld draws a yellow. Not an awful slide tackle, but a bit late.
71' -- Bad challenge from Hazard in the air who draws a foul against Samedov. Free kick coming for Russia, 35 yards out. Decent kick, but again, nothing on frame as it gets headed out by Russia.
70' -- Van Buyten goes toe-to-toe with Shatov for a through ball and Belgium's backline holds strong again. Haven't mentioned him, but that's generally because Van Buyten hasn't screwed up in the back.
68' -- Broadcast just spotted FIFA president Sepp Blatter at this game. I thought you had to know.
64' -- At this point, wouldn't really be surprised if we saw a 0-0 draw. Both defenses have been outstanding, and aside from Kokorin's first half chance, there haven't really been any incredible opportunities for either side. Possession is 50-50, shots nearly even as well.
62' -- SUB: Kozlov off, Eshchenko on for Russian defense.
Why he's sitting on the bench:
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 22, 2014
58' -- Kokorin tries a bicycle kick in the box but misses on it. Belgium responds and had an argument for a penalty after Origi was taken down in the box. Hazard and De Bruyne fueling this response.
56' -- SUB: Lukaku out, Origi in. Second straight ineffective game from him and he's got a dumbfounded look on his face as he walks off.
56' -- Nifty turn from Hazard in the middle but his lead pass is a bit strong into the box.
54' -- Witsel with a (light) yellow card. Russian player was falling over and Witsel was blamed for it.
53' -- Glushakov with a light shot/cross inside the box and that kills Russia's momentum. Belgium on the counter.
52' -- Mertens tracks back to thwart a Russian attack and knocks the ball out of bounds. Subsequent corner gets cleared out but Russia's still attacking.
48' -- Witsel and Kannunikov down after a brutal collision in the air. Witsel holding his shoulder, may have had wind knocked out of him. Wouldn't have happened had Hazard not cleared the ball into the middle of the defensive third.
46' -- We're underway in the second. Just noticed this but Maracana looks surprisingly empty. FIFA NOT PLEASED.
HALFTIME: Belgium 0, Russia 0
Both teams had decent chances on net, but frankly, Russia should be leading this Group H clash. Alexander Kokorin, who had four goals during qualifying, badly missed on a late header off a perfect centering cross. He couldn't even get it on frame, despite sitting wide open between two defenders.
Aside from that gift, Russia has been content to blast bouncing chances from beyond the 18 and Thibaut Courtois has done well with a few key saves. On the attacking side for the Belgians, right midfielder Dries Mertens has been extremely active with his passing and possession. Belgium has drawn a few solid chances, but for the second straight game, Romelu Lukaku hasn't played a role whatsoever. Look for Mertens and Eden Hazard to continue hammering shots in the second.
And this is what Alex Kokorin looked like after botching that chance:
Kokorin was sitting in between two Belgian defenders and there was no one near him on that cross. He immediately puts his hands on his head, knowing he blew it.
44' -- Fayzulin knocks the volley from outside the box with a strong strike but it sails a few feet over the bar. In next sequence, Kokorin absolutely botches a wide-open header and can't even put it on frame from from the six. That should be a goal. No doubt about it. AWFUL miss for Kokorin, who's typically sturdy in front of the goal.
43' -- Another corner for Russia after excellent interplay from Kozlov pushing up from the back.
39' -- Russia seems to be picking on Vincent Kompany, who came into the game with a slight groin strain. Kokorin, Samedov and Kanunnikov all attacking on the right.
37' -- Yellow card for Glushakov. Dangerous play as he flicks his boot high and nicks Mertens.
36' -- Tough to be more active than Dries Merterns has been thus far. Excellent footwork as he shakes the left back and rips a shot at Akinfeev, who safely deflects it away. Something's going to give along that right side, though.
31' -- D Vermaelan coming out, Vertonghen in. Vermaelan apparently got injurued during warm ups but decided to give it a go. Replays showed his knee buckling during pregame activities.
29' -- Great pace on a through ball to Samedov along the right flank but he just doesn't have the angle and boots it off frame. These two teams settling in, clearly showing they're the top two outfits in Group H.
27' -- Huge challenges from both sides and the game is getting increasingly physical. Still no goals.
23' -- Another head-to-head collision from Alderweireld and a Russian forward. Both going for ball, nothing dirty whatsoever.
21' -- Heavy touch from Kanunnikov on the cross, but Russia isn't backing down. Still, twice as many chances for Belgium thus far.
20' -- Mertens blasts one from the right side just outside the box. There were four Russian defenders watching him and no one could slow him down. Shot is wide right, and Belgium hasn't really testing Akinfeev after his massive opening-match blunder vs. South Korea.
17' -- Fellaini is a huge target in the air for Belgium's midfielders. Scored in the come back against Algeria.
13' -- Incredible run from Kevin De Bruyne, who carries it from midfield all the way to the box. Would've been a goal if not for great man-marking on Romelu Lukaku. And now Russia counters. This game is wide open.
11' -- Russia's defense looks two steps behind every Belgian attack. Ball has been in Russia's defensive third for 75 percent of opening minutes. And just as I say that, Fayzulin rips a decent chance from the top of the box. Corner coming.
9' -- Axel Witsel is everywhere for the Belgians. Winning headers, slotting through balls, defending. Plus, he's got an afro, so I'm a fan.
5' -- Dries Mertens with two dangerous crosses near the six but no one's on the receiving end. Great early activity from Belgians.
3' -- Samedov now has a giant bag of ice on his head after colliding with a Belgian player on a 50-50 ball. Will monitor his status.
2' -- Belgium with a dangerous cross early on, but Russia counters quickly and nearly gets a clean shot in the box. Pace is already outstanding.
1' -- We're off from Estadio Maracana.
PREGAME: A huge match given the wide-open nature of the group. Can Russia, having missed a golden chance for three points against South Korea, rebound against the supposed group favorite? Belgium, for all the hype surrounding its star-studded roster, looked completely pedestrian against Algeria. The exception was Eden Hazard. Expect another great game from the midfielder.
Russia vs. Belgium (Group H) | Kickoff: 6/22, 12 p.m. ET | Stadium: Maracana
Match Preview: This match was supposed to test the two best teams from Group H, and while that may ultimately be the case, neither looked particularly strong to begin the tournament.
Belgium, widely predicted to advance with ease, was shaky against Algeria despite the 2-1 win. Its offense wasn't fluid, and star striker Romelu Lukaku was a non-factor before he was subbed out. Against a strong defensive team like Russia, goals shouldn't be in abundance, and Belgium's strikers will need to capitalize on chances, unlike it did in its first game. The key to unlocking Russia's defense is probably midfielder Eden Hazard, whose vision set up a beautiful goal against Algeria.
Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev should be tested often, especially given the fact that he's so vulnerable. Akinfeev made the blunder of the tournament when he dropped a sure save against South Korea into the net. The Russians responded quickly for Fabio Capello's side, easing a bit of pressure off the keeper, but you can be sure he's played that miscue a thousand times over in his head.
"You can accept a mistake from a great keeper like Akinfeev," Capello said of his normally sure-handed goalie.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Alexander Kokorin are a lethal duo in the attacking third, and could be even more dangerous if the "groin strain" to Belgian captain Vincent Kompany hinders his team's defense. His fitness level is in doubt.
A slow start against Russia won't be forgiven like it was against Algeria, and Belgium has a lot to play for with a win guaranteeing a spot in the knockout rounds. Belgium needs to play way closer to its potential, while Russia is fighting to be relevant in this wide-open group.