By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Belgium came from behind to beat Algeria 2-1 this afternoon at the Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte. Clearly the fan favorite amongst the sell-out crowd, second half goals from Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens cancelled out Feghouli’s earlier penalty.
Belgium, with a squad full of promising young stars, are expected to go far in this World Cup. However, they started slowly here as tight Algerian marking rendered Eden Hazard and Romeu Lukaku virtually unrecognizable in an attacking capacity during the first half.
Algeria started the game offensively, and 36-year-old Daniel van Buyten, at the heart of the Belgian defense, needed to be alert after a rapid opening period. With Belgium on the back foot, the referee awarded Algeria a penalty when Jan Vertonghen tugged down Feghouli when he was in on goal.
The forward picked himself up to calmly convert the spot kick. Belgium tried to respond but Algeria’s midfield and central defensive partnership were clearly well drilled, allowing next to no space between the lines. Chadli, playing through the middle, had arguably the best chance of the first half for the Europeans but shot tamely within sight of goal. Belgium went in at the break a goal down and deservedly so.
Yet inspired substitutions from coach Marc Wilmots saved their bacon after the interval. He sent on Fellaini for the ineffective Moussa Dembele and was rewarded within minutes. Kevin de Bruyne was given time and space to curl in a cross from the left flank and Fellaini beat the defender in the air to flick the ball beyond M’Bolhi in the Algeria goal. The game pattern changed almost immediately.
Belgium had taken the initiative and went in search of a second goal. It came on 75 minutes. De Bruyne robbed Feghouli and released Hazard. The winger picked out Mertens with a perfectly measured pass and the forward smashed the ball past an outrushing M’Bolhi.
After a slow start Belgium managed to live up to expectations. Showing spirit like they did, this talented group of youngsters proved they have the stomach for a World Cup fight.
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