Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
June 22, 2014; 17:00 BST
Belgium face Russia in the crucial Group H encounter at the legendary Estadio do Maracana. Marc Wilmots’ side will be able to book a place in the next round with a win in this game.
Belgium are the favourites on paper to win this tie, but considering the numerous upsets in this tournament so far, they will guard against any complacency. Moreover there performance in the opening game against Algeria left a lot to be desired. Goals from Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens in the second half might have provided them with the win, but Marc Wilmots knows that his players will have to improve a lot from that outing.
Russia, like Belgium, produced an underwhelming performance in their opening match against South Korea and Alexander Kherzhakov’s equalizer in the second half provided them with a draw. They will be looking for a positive result in this game in order to brighten their chances of qualifying to the next round.
This will be the eighth meeting between these two nations and Russia have won four of these matches to Belgium’s three. But Belgium have had the upper hand in recent history, and are undefeated in their last four encounters against the Russians. Belgium also won the last two World Cup match between these two sides, the last of which came in 2002.
Team news and tactics
Belgium are sweating over the fitness of their captain Vincent Kompany after the Manchester City defender picked up a groin strain during their opening match against Algeria. Manager Marc Wilmots is however confident of retaining Kompany in the starting eleven, along with Chelsea winger Eden Hazard, who is also nursing a bruised toe.
Marc Wilmots will have some selection headaches ahead of this game. His side were produced an underwhelming performance for large part of the game against Algeria. The attack looked blunt and they lacked creative spark and drive in the midfield. The selection of Tottenham duo, Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembele, has been questioned and Wilmots is likely to bench both of them for this match.
The Belgium are likely to make two changes to the starting line-up that was fielded against Algeria. Marouane Fellaini, who scored the equalizer after coming off the bench in the last game, will replace Dembele at the center of the park, while, Dries Mertens, who scored the winner, will replace Chadli in attack.
Romelu Lukaku also looked ineffective during his stay on the pitch and it will be interesting to see whether Marc Wilmosts persists with the Chelsea striker. In the absence of Christian Benteke, Milmots is left with few options on the bench, but youngster Divock Origi looked lively after coming on in the second half and will be pushing for a start in against Russia.
With Mertens coming into the side, De Bruyne will move to a more central role behind the striker, while Mertens and Hazard will provide the width and pace on the wings. Jan Vertonghen struggled a lot against Sofiane Feghouli in the last game and Milmots will expect a better performance from him in defence. The full-backs remain Belgium’s the biggest cause for concern.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Courtois (GK); Alderweireld, Kompany, Buyten, Vertonghen; Fellaini, Witsel; Mertens, Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku
Fabio Capello doesn’t have any fitness concerns like Marc Wilmots ahead of this fixture, but he does share a similar selection headache.
Russia started their campaign with lacklustre draw against South Korea and Capello is expected to make changes to the starting line-up for this crucial encounter against Belgium. The omission of CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev has caused a lot of ruckus in the Russian media. Capello preferred 23-year-old Oleg Shatov in his place, but the Zenit midfielder failed to impact the game in the first half. Russia’s attack found new impetus after the arrival of Dzagoev as a substitute in the second half and he is expected make his way into the starting line-up for this game.
Alexander Kerzhakov, who scored the equalizer against South Korea three minutes after coming off the bench, will also start against Belgium. But Alexander Kokorin, who started upfront in the last game, will retain his place in the side and will be shifted to the left with Yuri Zhirkov dropping down to the bench.
Another second half substitute against South Korea, Igor Denisov, will also push for a place in the starting line-up. He is likely to replace Viktor Faizulin at the center of the park. Denis Glushakov will partner him in the pivot. All eyes will also be on Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, whose blunder led to South Korea’s goal in the second half, he will come under pressure from the Belgium attack.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Akinfeev (GK); Eshchenko, Berezoutski, Ignashevitch, Kombarov; Denisov, Glushakov; Samedov, Dzagoev, Kokorin; Kerzhakov
Players to watch-out for: Dries Mertens (Belgium); Alan Dzagoev (Russia)
Prediction: Belgium 2-1 Russia