In Group H, Marc Wilmots and Belgium will take on Fabio Capello’s Russia at the Estádio Maracanã in their second group game, where a win could seal qualification for the Red Devils into the knockouts for the fifth time in their history. After a narrow opening game victory against the desert foxes with two goals from two substitutes, it is certain that Wilmots will make alterations to his starting line-up, ahead of the game against the 2018 hosts.
Fabio Capello is no stranger to a goalkeeping calamity at the World Cup finals but the Russia boss insists his number one Igor Akinfeev has been forgiven for his simple error against South Korea. The CSKA Moscow keeper let a speculative Lee Keun-Ho effort through his hands in Cuiabá during Russia’s Group H opener on Wednesday, a moment that the man himself described as a ‘kids’ error. Russia came away with a vital point, thanks to a Kerzhakov equalizer against the South Koreans and will look to make that three against the Group H favorites to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
Captain Vincent Kompany is a doubt with a minor groin strain, while Wilmots must also decide whether to keep faith with Romelu Lukaku, who was ineffective during his 57 minutes against Algeria. Kompany missed training this week with his groin strain, but forward Eden Hazard showed no ill-effects of the toe injury he suffered against Algeria. While Mertens could remain on the bench, Fellaini is likely to replace Nacer Chadli, while Thomas Vermaelen could start instead of Daniel van Buyten.
Striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov was introduced midway through the second half for Russia before netting the equaliser, and he could earn a starting role if boss Fabio Capello decides to make changes in his attack.
Possible Starting Lineups
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Dembele, Fellaini, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku
Russia: Akinfeev; Ignashevich, Glushakov, Kokorin, Berezutskiy, Shatov, Zhirkov, Samedov, Fayzulin, Eshchenko, Kerzhakov
On the eve of the last World Cup, Belgium were ranked 48th in the world. When the draw for 2014 was made, Belgium were 5th. Thibaut Courtois saved 87.1 per cent of shots faced in the European qualifiers, the best ratio among goalkeepers who featured more than five times. Russia have only kept one clean sheet in their last six World Cup games, it was against Tunisia on June 5, 2002.
Eden Hazard and Igor Akinfeev
Eden Hazard was described as one of the top five players in the world by his manager Marc Wilmots, but Hazard was quick to play down such high praise.
I never like to talk about myself in that way because, to be honest, I don’t think I deserve it at the moment. To be thought of as one of the best five in the world, I would need to score more goals for a start. I would really need to score almost every game because that that is what the best players in the world – like Messi and Ronaldo – do every season. These are the guys everyone else has to aim for. It’s nice of the coach to say such things, but I wouldn’t say the same.
Eden Hazard has had a phenomenal season for Chelsea and is undoubtedly the man that has the ability to take this game by the scruff of his neck. If Belgium are to play expansively and beat a stern Russian outfit, Hazard is the man they will have to rely on.
Fabio Capello insisted he had forgiven goalkeeper Akinfeev’s howler against South Korea and instead said he was happy about the way his team responded after going down.
Just like some players can miss penalties it can happen that a keeper makes a mistake as well. You can accept a mistake from a great keeper like Akinfeev. It turned out fine as we were able to make up the difference. I’m very happy with him.
Igor Akinfeev has been one of the few mainstays in the Russian National team and has played much of his football for CSKA Moscow. His experience in the national side and his longstanding partnership with fellow CSKA Moscow defenders that play for the national side as well, will have a telling effect in maintaining Russia’s defensive shape to combat the Belgians’ attack.
This will be an interesting game that can be touted as a clash of styles and a clash of two interesting and contrasting managers. A win for Russia will open up Group H while a win for Belgium would hand them the ticket to next round. In the end, I feel this game will be decided by substitutions, again. I go for a Belgium win.
Belgium 2-1 Russia