Republic of Korea 0, Belgium 1
Korea Republic have exited the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ after a 1-0 defeat to ten-man Begium in Sao Paulo. Jan Vertonghen scored the only goal of this Group H fixture as Marc Wilmots side maintained their 100 per cent record despite the first-half dismissal of Steven Defour.
As his side were already assured of qualification, Wilmots opted to rest several of his established stars, with Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Axel Witsel among those dropping to the bench. The result was a largely underwhelming performance, although Les Diables Rouges did create the better of the first-half’s chances. The most glaring of all was spurned after 25 minutes by Dries Mertens, who had time, space and the goal at his mercy but – in one of the misses of the tournament thus far – somehow contrived to balloon wildly over from eight yards.
Mertens did fare better with his second effort of the half, a bouncing 25-yard volley, but Kim Seungyu was still able to get across comfortably and make a fairly routine save. Korea Republic had offered little in attack at this stage, but their prospects received a major boost a minute from half-time when Defour – making his first World Cup appearance – earned a straight red card for a two-footed stamp on Kim Shinwook.
The Porto midfielder’s dismissal prompted the Taeguk Warriors into an attacking half-time substitution, and the introduction of Lee Keunho certainly added some much-needed urgency to their attacking play. The first few minutes of the second period saw as many South Korean forward forays as the entire first half, with Thibaut Courtois called upon to made a smart early save and substitute Lee heading just over from inside the six-yard box.
The match as a whole improved, with Kim saving well at one end from Mertens just seconds before play raged to the other end, where a cross-cum-shot from Son Heungmin evaded Courtois and rebounded back off the crossbar. But while most of the attacking came from the Asians, Belgium remained dangerous on the break and it was no great surprise when they broke the deadlock with 12 minutes remaining.
The only shock, perhaps, was the identity of the goalscorer, with defender and stand-in skipper Jan Vertonghen surging forward to slot home like a seasoned predator after Kim could only parry Divock Origi’s initial effort. It was a goal that took the wind out of Korea Republic’s sails, and left them to head for home with Russia, with Algeria joining group winners Belgium in the Round of 16.