Belgium have enjoyed their late drama so far this tournament, and Thursday night's slender victory over South Korea was no exception.
Jan Vertonghen's 77th-minute winner ensured they stormed Group H with maximum points to finish a comfortable five ahead of surprise package Algeria – and most impressively, they'd managed this latest win with 10 men for the second half after Steven Defour was shown a straight red card for a bad challenge on Kim Shin-wook.
It also took goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois's impressive unbeaten run with his country to 20 games. Last season's La Liga winner was an impressive force between the posts once again too, making key saves either side of Vertonghen's goal.
South Korea, who faced a seemingly impossible battle to qualify before the game, began strongly as their wide-men looked to get in behind a makeshift Belgium defence without Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen. Their attempts to play through were thwarted, however; Belgium's passing was somewhat haphazard, meanwhile.
Just after the half-hour mark, the teams' ideas were similar. It was Belgium who were creating the better opportunities, however, with South Korea resorting to pot shots from outside the box (which remained a policy of theirs throughout). Notably, Courtois was equal to a stinging low Ki Sung-yueng effort to keep the score goalless.
One minute before half-time, Belgium were reduced to 10 men when Defour was shown his marching orders for a nasty challenge on Shin-wook. There was no complaining from the Porto man, who'd completed 25 of 26 first-half passes and recovered the ball a game-high 5 times for his nation.
Thankfully for the Koreans, Shin-wook escaped unscathed. The beanpole striker had proved his effectiveness as a substitute in Sunday's defeat to Algeria, and Hong Myung-bo's boys weren't afraid to use their man's height advantage. But lumping it long didn't work: the 6ft 5in K League star won only 2 of his 6 aerial duels, in a half where South Korea carved out only 2 opportunities. At the other end, Belgium's quick tempo in the final third was creating openings.
But how would the red card affect Marc Wilmots' troops? Well, as expected: South Korea bossed possession, completing three times as many passes as Belgium in the second half's opening 15 minutes. Yet still they found no way through a sturdy Belgian rearguard marshalled superbly by veteran Daniel van Buyten. Most of the Koreans' play went through the neat-and-tidy Ki, but the Swansea midfielder's impatience in front of goal – 4 of his 5 efforts came from outside the box – was perhaps detrimental.
Liverpool fans were treated to a glimpse of potential signing Divock Origi, who was extremely bright in his 30-minute appearance off the bench. He'd already made a name for himself by netting against Russia, and his eye for goal was clear here; by the end he'd fired 3 shots on goal, won 2 fouls in good positions and beat his man on 2/3 occasions. And...
...it was his shot that helped produce Belgium's winner. Kim Seung-gyu could only palm it straight into the path of Vertonghen, who slotted home gleefully to set up a last-16 date with the USA in Salvador. South Korea had their moments in the second period, as their chances created around the box show below, but ultimately they leave this tournament under a cloud of disappointment. Nevertheless, their young team with an average age of just over 24 will be better for it in four years' time.
Facts and figures
- Steven Defour received Belgium’s third red card at a World Cup, after Eric Gerets in 1990 and Gert Verhayen in 1998.
- Hong Jeong-Ho has made more clearances than any other player at this tournament (38).
- Belgium’s last 6 World Cup goals have come in the final 20 minutes of matches.
- South Korea have kept 1 clean sheet in their last 12 World Cup games.
- Belgium are unbeaten in their last 9 World Cup group stage matches.
- Nicolas Lombaerts completed all 25 of his passes.
- Daniel van Buyten has made the joint-most blocks in the tournament (5, with Christian Noboa).
- Belgium kept back-to-back clean sheets at the World Cup for the third time. On all three occasions they won both games 1-0.
- South Korea had 16 shots (including blocks) and failed to score. They scored with 2 of 8 attempts against Algeria.