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Thibaut Courtois backstops 10-man Belgium to perfect group stage record

Stu Forster

However unimpressive or uninspiring Belgium may have been so far, they are just one of four teams to finish the group stages with three wins from three (Argentina, the Netherlands, and Colombia the others).  Granted, Belgium had probably the easiest group of all, but they finish with the best first round record of any European team, which is probably a greater achievement in South America (where European teams have struggled, traditionally) than anywhere else.

Unsurprisingly for a team with Thibaut Courtois in goal, Belgium are also one of three teams with the best defensive record in the group stages with two clean sheets and just one goal conceded (Costa Rica and Mexico the others).  And just like fellow La Liga goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Courtois was only beaten by a penalty kick*, Algeria's Sofiane Feghouli sending notice of his country's intentions.  Congratulations to them, by the way, for reaching the second round as well after eliminating a Fabio Capello-led Russia.

* Meanwhile, the also excellent Guillermo Ochoa was only beaten in the dying moments of the final group stage match.

So as far as raw results, Belgium have kicked it with the first round's South and Central American best.  But just like in their first two matches, the Red Devils had to wait until the final 15 minutes to find a winner.  Playing a much-changed lineup but reduced to 10-men just before the half thanks to a two-footed, Ramires-esque tackle from Steve Defour, it was a Spurs man who found himself on the score-sheet: Jan Vertonghen slotting home after the Korean goalkeeper parried Divock Origi's effort straight out to the left back who was the only one following the shot.  Neither Origi nor Lukaku got the start today, but it was once again the 19-year-old who made a difference for the Red Devils, starting the move by forcing a turnover and collecting the pseudo-assist.  Another previous difference-maker, Eden Hazard got a few minutes at the end as a late substitute, during which time he collected two fouls and drew an excellent save from the goalkeeper.  Yes, that's right, he took a shot!  There's hope yet!

Meanwhile, at the other end, while Thibaut Courtois could've easily taken a nap in the first half (and judged by some of his David De Gea-esque play on corners, maybe he did), he had to be alert in the second half as South Korea looked to make their man advantage count.  After taking just four shots in the first half, the Koreans peppered the Belgian goal with twelve in the second half.  Courtois was equal to all four shots on-target, though he was saved once by the crossbar on a mishit cross.  Here was his best effort of the day, as he remained unbeaten in all matches for his country (13 wins, 6 draws, 0 losses).

Belgium now advance to the Round of 16 to face none other than the United States.  Should be interesting.

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