South Korea 0-1 Belgium: Captain Jan wins it after Defour sees red
Ten-man Belgium made it three wins out of three for the first time in their World Cup history to set up a second round match against the USA after another late winner, this time from acting skipper Jan Vertonghen.
Marc Wilmots made seven changes from the side which beat Russia 1-0 in the previous game with Anthony Vanden Borre, Nicolas Lombaerts and Jan Vertonghen coming in at the back, Steven Defour and Mousa Dembélé in midfield and surprisingly Kevin Mirallas and Adnan Januzaj in the forward line meaning that Divock Origi had to settle for a place on the bench alongside Romelu Lukaku.
Dries Mertens was the brightest spark in the early stages as South Korea looked to capitalise upon their energetic approach to get amongst les Diables Rouges, targeting Mousa Dembélé who is known to dwell on the ball and sometimes be in his own world out there on the pitch. Anthony Vanden Borre had an eventful evening down his right-hand side, meeting more than his match in Son Heung-Min but also being involved in a bizarre incident when Kim Young Gwon threw himself to the floor between man and ball inside the box.
Mirallas and Mertens were combining well in attack and their movement was causing the Koreans problems. They almost combined to great effect moments before the Napoli man shinned the ball high over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy. Sunderland midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung was running the show for his side and he forced Thibaut Courtois into a superb stop low to his right to keep the scores level. Steven Defour cleared off the line and clear-cut chances were few and far between for Belgium with Vertonghen’s penchant for long range shots again proving unsuccessful.
The first half ended with a moment of utter stupidity from Defour, a man whom Wilmots has placed great faith in at certain points over the last two years. De Rode Duivels were justifiably reduced to ten men after the Porto midfielder’s two-footed challenge where he went over the top with his studs. The Australian referee had no option but to brandish the red card but Belgium were able to return to the dressing room a man down but with their goal intact. It was Belgium’s first red card at the World Cup since Gert Verheyen against Mexico in 1998 (merci @OptaJean) and much less debatable to boot.
Wilmots decided not to change personnel but the team settled into a 4-4-1 system for the second half. Ki continued to pull the strings as the Koreans sought to capitalise on their numerical superiority. Lee Keun Ho headed over and Son’s cross surprised Courtois by landing on top of the crossbar before Wilmots had enough and decided to introduce Nacer Chadli and Divock Origi in place of Mertens and Januzaj,who was rarelygiven the chance to shine.
Vertonghen began to stamp his authority on proceedings with a magnificent challenge to rival Kompany’s earlier in the tournament but shooting from distance still wasn’t paying off. Fellaini should have done better from a Mirallas corner while once again the signs were that Origi was having a real impact in attack, livening things up with his pace and ability to make intelligent runs, offering himself as an available option for those in support.
The breakthrough came just before the 80-minute mark. Origi found himself in space 25 yards from goal and he unleashed a low shot, which bounced as it got to Kim Seung-Ryu, who could only parry the ball into the path of the oncoming Vertonghen and he found the bottom corner. Again, a substitute had changed the game in Belgium’s favour and again the winning goal came late but it was nice to see a Belgian fullback making a positive contribution in the opponent’s half.
Unlike Algeria, South Korea responded well to falling behind and Lee Keun Ho clipped the ball over before Courtois made two saves on his way to an eleventh clean sheet in just eighteen caps and the 101st of his professional career. Late substitute Eden Hazard almost made it two but for a good save but Belgium held on for a hard-earned 1-0 win to qualify for the knockout stages with an unblemished record. The United States lie in wait in Salvador next Tuesday and Belgium have played them twice in recent years. The big guns will return but Origi has more than earned a starting berth for my money. As for the performance, once again it was anything but spectacular but if you’ve followed this team, what did you really expect?