A first half red card wasn’t enough to keep Belgium from claiming its third win in as many World Cup matches, with the team’s 1-0 win today over South Korea in São Paulo clinching first in Group H . Thanks to Jan Vertonghen’s 78th minute goal, the Belgians, competing in their first major tournament in 12 years, will face the United States next Tuesday in Brazil 2014’s knockout round.
Belgium was dealt a setback just before halftime when midfielder Steven Defour was shown a straight red card. Despite that disadvantage, the Red Devils were able to claim a late victory, with Vertonghen converting off a rebound in front of the South Korean net to score the game’s only goal.
The result leaves Belgium as one of four perfect teams through three matches, a record that earns a meeting with the United States in the Round of 16. South Korea, on the other hand, exits after the opening round, failing to make the final 16 after advancing out of their group four years ago.
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Though the Koreans nearly went up after a 30th minute corner kick, the first half was a relatively eventless one, with Belgium’s best chance coming five minutes earlier when Dries Mertens put a close-range shot over the bar. Just before halftime, however, Defour upset the game’s balance, earning a red card when his right foot came down on Korean attacker Kim Shin-Wook’s shin. The favorites would play the final 45 minutes with 10 men.
Despite that edge, Belgium were able to hold their own against the South Koreans through the hour-mark, when both coaches began making their first sets of changes. Though the Red Devils were seeing less of the ball, Thibaut Courtois was still relatively untested in goal as Hong Myung-Bo made brought on Kim Bo-Kyung and Ji-Dong Won. By the 73rd minute, the Koreans only had two shots on target.
By then, Vertonghen had also given the Belgians the lead. Running onto the rebound of a Divock Origi shot, the Belgian fullback beat goalkeeper Kim Seung-Gyu before he could recover, taking advantage of Origi’s spilt shot to make it 1-0, Belgium.
A stoppage time chance deflected on goal by Lee Keun-Ho nearly drew South Korea even, but by then, all hopes Hong’s side had of advancing had evaporated. Failing to make any consistent headway against the Belgian defense, the Koreans were relegated to their second straight loss, their one point in three games leaving them at the bottom of Group H.
For Belgium, the win makes them the fourth team to complete group play with a perfect record, their 3-0-0 mark matching the Netherlands, Colombia and Argentina. Next Tuesday, the Red Devils will hope to make it four wins in four games when they face the U.S. in Salvador.
South Korea: S.G. Kim; Y. Lee, Hong, Y.G. Kim, Yun; Han (K. Lee 45′), Ki; C.Y. Lee, Koo, Son (Ji 73′); S.W. Kim (B. Kim 66′)
Belgium: Courtois; Vanden Boore, Lombaerts, Van Buyten, Vertonghen; Fellaini, Dembélé; Mirallas (Hazard 88′), Januzaj (Chadli 60′), Defour, Mertens (Origi 60′)
Goals: Vertonghen 78′.