Belgium 2 Algeria 1 match report: Marouane Fellaini sparks turnaround as dark horses overcome first hurdle in Group H

The Belgians had to come from behind in Belo Horizonte

For 70 minutes Belgium’s so-called golden generation, packed full with players boasting Premier League 24-carat credentials, produced an underwhelming level of football.

Most observers have tipped Marc Wilmots’ Belgium side to make the latter stages of the tournament and some see them as potential champions. On this evidence that is unlikely, although they had the character to put a woeful first half behind them to turn round a scoreline that threatened to produce the tournament’s biggest shock so far.

Try as they might in the first half, they just could not find a way through a resolute Algeria side, who had got their tactics spot on, soaking up pressure when they needed to and even going ahead through a Sofiane Feghouli penalty after the Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen was caught out for pace.

“This was a difficult game against a team that always moves backwards,” said Wilmots. “We made a very small mistake, but that is punished at a World Cup. You then have to show patience and we did. During the second half, we have shown our mental strength with this young group. The squad has made all the difference.”

 

In such circumstances perhaps only David Moyes – and, to be fair, Wilmots himself – would have backed Marouane Fellaini to emerge as Belgium’s hero. The Manchester United misfit, whose last goal had been 10 long months ago for Everton against Stevenage, was part of a triple substitution which turned the game and led to his personal redemption after a season that became a horror show.

Fellaini came on for Moussa Dembele and, with Romelu Lukaku also departing, Belgium found fresh life and impetus. Fellaini grabbed the equaliser, heading in off the bar as Belgium, with Eden Hazard to the fore, suddenly started playing like the team everybody had come to see.

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Lukaku failed to have much impact

 

Unsurprisingly, Fellaini headed straight for Wilmots, obviously grateful to repay the manager who had shown so much faith in him. What must Moyes have thought, for here was the player who had been held up as an example of his poor judgement.

With the equaliser secured, it became only a matter of time before Belgium added a second and it duly arrived in the 80th minute when another substitute, Napoli’s Dries Mertens, broke through and fired into the roof of the net.

 “The Algerians made it very difficult for us,’’ said Wilmots. ‘‘They are not an easy team to break down and you saw the best of my team in the last part of this match. There is a lot of expectation of this team and we really had to work hard for this result. The substitutions did make a big difference to the outcome.”

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Algeria’s coach Vahid Halilhodzic was unable to hide his disappointment at the result.

“This was not a match that we should have lost, we should have had a draw at least. I am very disappointed and regret the result. We missed a great opportunity to take at least a point from this match but the second half was very difficult because my team started tiring.

“There was a foul in the lead up to the second goal but we showed what we are capable of and did not make it easy for Belgium, who are a very talented side.”

For most of the game, Algeria’s back four was led admirably by Madjid Bougherra. The former Rangers player brings his international career to an end after the World Cup and judging by yesterday’s performance, he is determined to go out on a high.

“The players are very disappointed. We are still trying to understand how we lost this match because we played so well,” he said.

Even Algerian goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, considered to be the team’s weak link, had an impressive day, apart from having to pick out the ball from the net twice. When on occasions, particularly during the first half the Belgians did break through, everything he punched or parried fell safe.

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The Algerians finished bottom of their last two World Cup qualifying groups and last at 2013’s Africa Cup. Cheered on by around 5,000 fans, they now head to Porto Alegre to take on South Korea on Sunday. Qualifying for the second round would be a major achievement.

As for Belgium, they head to Rio de Janeiro for Sunday’s match against Russia  knowing that they may not be so lucky against more challenging opposition.

On paper, there is no doubting their talent. They had arrived in Belo Horizonte hoping to send out a message to some of the tournament’s more illustrious names that they have what it takes to make an impact at this World Cup. After yesterday’s performance the likes of Germany and Portugal, who Belgium could face if they progress to the second round, must be wondering what all the fuss was about.

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