Teenager Divock Origi became the youngest player to score in this World Cup when he cracked in an 88th-minute winner to give Belgium a 1-0 victory over Russia on Sunday and a place in the last 16.
Origi’s well-placed shot came after a dangerous jinking run and cutback from the left by Eden Hazard and it settled an otherwise turgid game during which the 73,000 fans regularly booed both teams.
The 19-year-old’s goal came just four minutes after Kevin Mirallas crashed a free kick against the base of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s right-hand post to give Belgium six points from two games.
Russia have one point with South Korea and Algeria meeting in the other Group H match in Porto Alegre later on Sunday.
“It was an important goal but I thought we created it as a team,” Origi said in a television interview. “I thought we showed today that we are mentally strong.”
Belgium manager Marc Wilmots said he gambled on Origi who plays for French club Lille.
“He’s in a good space right now, he’s 19 years old. It was a bit of a surprise since he was an unknown before I selected him. Now everyone knows who he is.
“It was a hard game because the Russians were expecting us – the players were tired, it was hot, the Russians were already cramping up after 60 minutes.
“It was not an easy match but I think we deserved to win it.”
Russia coach Fabio Capello thought it was a decent game.
“The match was a really good one, fast, strong,” he said. “I’m disappointed for the players because they played a really good game.”
But apart from Belgium’s rousing finale, the game was one of the poorest in the tournament although Origi will not worry about that as he became the first teenager to score in the World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006.
Despite a few flashes of inspiration from Belgium’s right-winger Dries Martens in the first half and their attacking finish at the end, the match never rose above the largely forgettable.
Both managers made changes to the teams that played in their opening matches, but if their ideas were to spark up their teams after relatively poor opening displays, those plans did not appear to work.
Apart from Mertens doing his best to bring Belgium to life before the break by giving left back Dmitry Kombarov a torrid time down the right, none of his inspired runs or passes produced the breakthrough.
Russia looked lively on the break in the first half with Victor Fayzulin popping up in dangerous positions, but one of the strengths of this Belgium side is their defence.
Captain Vincent Kompany, who missed two days of training with a groin injury, gave a masterful display in the centre of the back four and although Thomas Vermaelen went off after 31 minutes with a knee injury his replacement Jan Vertonghen did a good job in controlling Alexander Samedov and Oleg Shatov.
Russia had what appeared to be a decent penalty claim turned down when Toby Alderweireld seemed to catch Maksim Kanunnikov just inside the area and missed a great chance just before halftime when Alexander Kokorin miscued his header wide.
Alan Dzagoev also went close late in the game for Russia soon after coming on.ens thrived on the right wing, Marouane Fellaini was sloppy and ineffectual in the center of midfield.
Once Russia’s central defense of Sergey Ignashevich and Vasily Berezutskiy worked out how to control the Belgian passing combinations, momentum changed. After the early massive cheers for Belgium from the crowd, shouts of ‘Ro-ssi-ya, Ro-ssi-ya,’ took over.
Even if Vincent Kompany had recovered from a groin strain to play a polished first half, the surprise call-up of defender Thomas Vermaelen to start the game totally backfired.
The Arsenal defender injured his knee in the warmup and lasted only 31 minutes before limping off.