(AFP) – Belgium captain Vincent Kompany hopes to shrug off a groin problem and fulfil “a childhood dream” by leading his team out to face Russia at the Maracana on Sunday.
Marc Wilmots’s side can secure a place in the last 16 if they overcome Fabio Capello’s Russia in the Group H encounter and Kompany is confident he will be fit enough to play at the fabled stadium for the first time.
“I’m doing very well,” the Manchester City centre-back told a pre-game press conference at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
“I’ve followed an individual programme these last two days. Today I’m training with the team. If everything goes well, there won’t be any problems for tomorrow (Sunday).
“In the worst case, there are valuable players who can replace me. My personal situation is not the most important thing.
“Playing at the Maracana is an honour, a source of pride. With Wembley, it’s the most mythical stadium in the world. I’ve already achieved lots of my childhood dreams. This is another one.”
The 28-year-old added: “I think that all the players, Belgian and Russian, will share the same extraordinary feeling here. And I think it’s the case for the journalists as well.”
While the knockout phase already beckons for Belgium, some of their European rivals have not fared nearly as well, with Spain and England already out and Italy’s chances of qualifying in the balance.
Having played his football in England since 2008, when he joined City from German side Hamburg, Kompany said that he felt particularly sorry to see Roy Hodgson’s side exit the competition.
“I’m as sad as any other English supporter. I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.
“My wife is English. She thinks that our children are English. In reality, they’re Belgian!” he added, laughing.
“So it’s understandable that we’re sad in my family. I have lots of respect and admiration for England and that won’t change despite what happened here.”
– Defour in contention –
While Belgium came from behind to beat Algeria 2-1 in their opening game in Belo Horizonte, Russia could only muster a 1-1 draw against South Korea.
With Belgium therefore two points above their opponents ahead of Sunday’s fixture, coach Wilmots believes the onus will be on Russia to come out and attack.
“I saw that Russia sat back against South Korea, with a fairly static system,” he said.
“The important thing for us will be not to give them the space they’re expecting us to give them.
“You can’t write the script of a match before it starts, but you can influence its outcome.
“The advantage for us is that we don’t need to take the match in hand. It’s up to Russia to do it. But will they actually do it?”
Wilmots has hinted that he will field Porto’s Steven Defour alongside Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini in midfield against Russia, but he was anxious not to give anything away on the eve of the match.
“I said that I could do it. I didn’t say that I would,” he said.
“Everyone knows the qualities that this triangle has, but I have other possibilities.”