By DANIEL KARELL
They may not have displayed the most free-flowing, cohesive soccer in their first three matches, but the Belgians got the results they desired.
The Red Devils completed an undefeated group stage campaign with a 1-0 victory over South Korea at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, despite being reduced to 10 men just before halftime. Substitute forward Divock Origi played a big role again for Belgium and helped set up the game-winning goal, which was scored by captain Jan Vertonghen.
Knowing that it needed to win by a wide margin and hope for a draw in the Russia-Algeria match, South Korea resorted to all-out attack for much of the game, leaving them susceptible at the back. Belgium, which rested four starters, ended up with the best early match of the game.
Forward Dries Mertens found himself in the box with just the goalkeeper to beat off a deflected pass in the 25th minute, but his close-range attempt flew over the bar.
The match changed in South Korea’s favor in the 44th minute when Belgium midfielder Steven Defour went into a challenge and stamped down on the legs of Shin Wook-Kim, earning a straight red card and an early dismissal.
In the second half, South Korea began to pour it on more and advance higher up the field but couldn’t seem to find the final pass. Bayer Leverkusen forward Heung-Min Son created a few chances for the Taeguk Warriors, but Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois kept the danger away.
In the 77th minute, Belgium finally found the breakthrough. Taking a turnover in South Korea’s defensive third of the field, Origi turned toward goal and fired a low strike. South Korea goalkeeper Seung-Gyu Kim failed to parry the shot aside, leaving the ball on a plate for Vertonghen to slam home to give the Red Devils their lead.
Eden Hazard came on late as a substitute and nearly scored a second for his side but Kim’s quick reflex save palmed the ball out for a corner kick.