Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini was recalled to Belgium’s starting XI on Sunday as the Red Devils secured qualification from Group H with a narrow 1-0 win over Russia.
Marc Wilmots opted to reward Fellaini following his goalscoring cameo in the 2-1 win over Algeria, while also handing starts to Dries Mertens and Thomas Vermaelen. Notably, the latter suffered a slight injury in the warm-up and only managed to play for around 30 minutes, before exiting for Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen.
Russia should have taken the lead during a lacklustre first half when Alexander Kokorin latched on to Denis Glushakov's excellent cross to head just inches wide of the far post, much to the relief of the fortunate Belgian defenders.
Much like the opening 45 minutes, the second half began at a slow pace and the only incident of note was a half-hearted penalty appeal for Belgium after substitute Divock Origi went down under pressure on the hour.
The match was crying out for a dose of invention and pace, but with both sides struggling with the heat of Rio, fans were left disappointed. United’s teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj was also an unused substitute, despite his obvious attacking talents.
With the clock ticking, Fabio Capello’s Russia grew in confidence and could have broken the deadlock in the 81st minute when Andrey Eshchenko dragged a shot wide of the far post from the edge of the area, setting alarm bells ringing for the Belgian defence.