|Belgiumís Divock Origi (right) celebrates with Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini, after scoring against Russia, on Sunday. (Reuters)
Rio de Janeiro: Teenage forward Divock Origi turned a listless Belgian performance into a late 1-0 win over Russia on Sunday, enough to qualify for the next round of the World Cup with two straight victories.
Belgium barely contained a reinvigorated Russia for most of the match, yet struck with a blistering final spurt of class and opportunism to turn a bad situation into a wild celebration for coach Marc Wilmots in the 88th minute and hugs all around at the fulltime.
After their dour 1-1 draw with South Korea, Russia produced the kind of sparkle and dominance that most had been expected more from Belgium.
With Belgian King Philippe looking on, substitute Kevin Mirallas hit a free-kick against the post in 84th minute, setting off a late revival. At first it looked like late moves 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 centre. A pinpoint pass from Hazard and cool right-foot finishing from the 19-year-old Origi gave Belgium more than it deserved.
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 which piled on the pressure in the second half and was let down by their blunt finishing touch. It gave goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois his 100th professional clean sheet at age 22.
Belgium moved to six points with the win, five ahead of Russia and South Korea — the Koreans were playing Algeria later Sunday. Belgium were lucky to head into halftime with the score locked at 0-0.
It escaped 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. And, with Russia surging relentlessly, striker Alexander Kokorin found himself unmarked from nine yards with an open header on goal, but he put it just wide.
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen (Jan Vertonghen 31), Vincent Kompany, Daniel Van Buyten; Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens (Kevin Mirallas 75); Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku (Divock Origi 57).
Russia: Igor Akinfeev; Alexey Kozlov (Andrey Eshchenko 62), Sergey Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutskiy, Dmitry Kombarov; Denis Glushakov, Alexander Samedov (Alexander Kerzhakov 90), Victor Faizulin, Oleg Shatov (Alan Dzagoev 83); Alexander Kokorin, Maksim Kanunnikov.
Man of the Match: Eden Hazard
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)