Marc Wilmots' side was unconvincing in its opener against Algeria and will look to improve against Fabio Capello's men.RIO DE JANEIRO — Belgium made hard work of its first match in World Cup Group H but Marc Wilmots’ much-hyped side managed to come from behind to beat Algeria.
As the favorite to win the group, Belgium can expect to again face a team prepared to sit deep and defend in numbers when it plays Russia on Sunday.
The main injury concern for Belgium is a groin problem for Vincent Kompany, but the captain is expected to lead his side out again at the Maracana, providing vital leadership and quality in the heart of the defense.
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Romelu Lukaku was disappointing in the 58 minutes he played against Algeria but the Chelsea striker will continue to lead the line for Belgium, with his pace and power likely to cause problems for Russia’s slow defense.
The most likely change for Belgium is a starting place for Marouane Fellaini after the Manchester United midfielder came off the bench to score against Algeria, with Tottenham winger Nacer Chadli likely to make way. The other scorer against the North Africans – Dries Mertens – is also pushing for a start.
Wilmots has claimed that Eden Hazard is among the top five players in the world but to prove it the Chelsea winger will have to improve on his record of six international goals in 45 matches. He could make the difference and provide the extra quality to get past Russia.
Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev made the mistake of the tournament so far – and there have been a few – when he spilled the ball into his own net in the 1-1 draw with South Korea.
It was the nadir of a shaky display throughout the game for Akinfeev but Russia coach Fabio Capello has insisted he will not change his goalkeeper to face Belgium.
Russia is unbeaten in its last 11 matches under Fabio Capello but it lacked drive and quality on the ball against South Korea, with Roman Shirokov’s influence badly missed in midfield as he misses the tournament through injury.
As he looks to guide Russia to just its third ever victory at the World Cup finals, Capello may hand a start to 31-year-old striker Alexander Kerzhakov after his equalizer as a substitute in the first game.