World Cup Group H | Sao Paulo | Fri 27 Jun | 4am
Bottom versus Top.
Time, perhaps, for a reassessment and a slight downgrading. The more the world sees of Belgium, the less likely it seems that they can live up to their dark horses tag. Two victories have left them looking down on Group H, but neither performance has looked like that of a team destined to last the distance in Brazil. Algeria (2-1) and Russia (1-0) have both been beaten, but both were painful grinds.
Interestingly, and indeed tellingly, all three of Belgium's goals have been scored by substitutes. The supposed chief source of goals – Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku – has struggled to impose himself on either game. Having failed to touch the ball in the opposition area even once against Algeria, Lukaku improved that figure against Fabio Capello's Russia, but a single touch of the ball in the opposition area in 113 minutes of play suggests a man who should not be on the field in the first place.
"We didn’t play a very good match,” was Eden Hazard's honest assessment, and he was as guilty as anyone. “The last 10 minutes were good, that’s all."
Here, Belgium need just a point to finish top of Group H and should face least resistance from a game but unable South Korea, bottom with just a single point and resigned to falling at the first. Their 4-2 defeat to Algeria showed their attacking intentions but exposed their limitations. And with no reason to sit back now, they should offer Belgium the space they've struggled to find in their first two matches. Maybe, finally, we'll see what all the fuss was about. But don't hold your breath.
What the local media say
Belgian publication De Standaard celebrated the country's progress to the last 16 by posting pictures of the players taking selfies with the Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and by breathing a large sigh of relief. "It was hanging and strangle," it wheezed, meaning, we think, it wasn't very attractive to watch. "But the Red Devils knocked Russia 1-0 thanks to a very late goal from Origi… following an ultimate gear."
Key battle: Lee Yong/Hong Jeong-ho vs Hazard
Despite being largely peripheral in Belgium's first two games, Hazard still topped the chances created stat in both encounters – with 4 chances yielding a crucial goal in each game. The Chelsea man is yet to convince for Belgium but remains his country's most gifted, creative spark. And in a team with no noticeable striker and little threat of goals, his influence will be key.
Facts and figures
- 24 of South Korea’s 31 World Cup goals have come after half-time.
- Belgium’s last 5 World Cup goals have come in the final 20 minutes of matches.
- Belgium are now unbeaten in 8 World Cup group stage games, winning 3 and drawing 5.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A chance for Belgium to finally open their legs against a team with nothing to lose: 2-1.