Belgium are through to the FIFA World Cup round of 16 with a game to spare after teenager Divock Origi struck a dramatic late winner against Russia.
There was little to tell between the Group H rivals, and it was Russia who created the better chances until a late flurry from their opponents that swiftly earned its reward. Belgium, on six points, face South Korea in Sao Paulo on Friday when Russia take on Algeria in Curitiba, needing a win after the African side defeated the Asian contenders 4-2 to move off the mark.
"It was an important goal but I thought we created it as a team," Origi, the first teenager to score in a World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006, said on TV after the game. "I thought we showed today that we are mentally strong."
Coach Marc Wilmots added: "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."
While Belgium started with the two players that came off the bench to score in the defeat of Algeria on Tuesday, Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens, Fabio Capello opted against the substitute that equalised against South Korea, Aleksandr Kerzhakov. Victor Fayzulin had the first shot on target of the game without overly troubling Thibaut Courtois while at the other end Mertens shot just wide as Belgium began to warm to their task.
Just past the half-hour Courtois got down again to deny, Maksim Kanunnikov one of two introductions to the Russia lineup along with Aleksei Kozlov. However Thomas Vermaelen, who had been preferred to Jan Vertonghen in defence, limped off to be replaced by the No5 soon after.
Mertens did continue an impressive first half by testing Igor Akinfeev. But the chance of the half came for Russia in the 44th minute, Aleksandr Kokorin heading wide after rising to meet Denis Glushakov's cross from the left.
Early in the second half Wilmots – who played alongside Daniel Van Buyten and against Kerzhakov when Belgium beat Russia 3-2 to progress from 2002 Group H in Shizuoka – turned to 19-year-old LOSC Lille forward Origi. Substitute Andrei Eschenko hit the ball across the face of goal after a fine move, and Capello introduced Alan Dzagoev late on.
However, Belgium came with an ace of a winner seven minutes from time when stheir own sub Kevin Mirallas hit a low free-kick from the edge of the box against the post. Eden Hazard then broke through and his shot deflected wide but he was to set up the winner as Belgium countered quickly down the left and his low cross was met by Origi's shot into the roof of the net. Kerzhakov was introduced but it was too late and Akinfeev did well to deny Mirallas after more fine work by Hazard.