World Cup blog: Spurs star shines as Chelsea man’s remarkable run continues for Belgium
23:18 26 June 2014
Belgium are yet to really click at this World Cup, but a third consecutive win in difficult circumstances against South Korea shows that everybody’s favourite dark horses could finally be ready to fulfil their potential.
Marc Wilmots’ side had to play with 10 men for much of the contest after Steven Defour’s straight red card late in the first half, but they showed impressive resolve to repel South Korea before Jan Vertonghen’s late strike gave them a 1-0 win and set up a winnable last 16 tie with the USA.
Like in the late victories over Algeria and Russia, Belgium laboured in attack for long periods against the Koreans but rarely looked troubled at the other end.
Much has been made of their talented attackers like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens, but Belgium’s defensive prowess has been the bedrock of their success thus far.
Indeed, with just one goal conceded in three games, Belgium – along with Mexico and Costa Rica – boast the best defensive record of the group stage.
Tottenham’s Vertonghen was key to that against South Korea and was in the right place at the right time to tuck home the winning goal late on. The Belgians defended brilliantly as a team, and the fact that they were without both Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen shows their strength in depth.
In front of Vertonghen, fellow Lilywhite Mousa Dembele impressed in midfield, and there were also late cameos for rested Chelsea star Hazard and Spurs man Nacer Chadli.
In goal, meanwhile, Chelsea’s Thiabaut Courtois was typically assured. Belgium have not been beaten in the 20 games in which Courtois has played, and that remarkable run never looked like ending in Sao Paulo.
The 22-year-old’s best save came from a rasping drive by Ki Sung-Yong in the first half, and his all-round excellence was plain to see whenever he was called into action.
It remains unclear where Courtois will play next season, but Jose Mourinho will be following his World Cup campaign knowing that he is ready to take over from Petr Cech at Stamford Bridge when called upon.
Elsewhere in Group H, Algeria secured a 1-1 draw with Russia to book a last 16 clash against Germany. With the group stages now over, fans must contend with an unfamiliar (and unwelcome) football-free day on Friday.
Belgium know that when the action gets back underway this weekend, there’s a place in the last eight well and truly up for grabs for them.