Belgium makes a comeback to beat Algeria 2-1 in World Cup opener

Belgium’s raw qualities decided the game – the cross, the header, the counter-attack

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Algeria’s 32-year-long wait for a win at the FIFA World Cup boiled down to the narrowest of margins. Belgium recovered from a first-half goal from Sofiane Feghouli to take the first three points on offer in the group.

Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United came on as a late substitute and he duly supplied the equaliser with a towering header to convert Kevin de Bruyne’s cross. Soon, Belgium found the second, countering with stunning potency, as Eden Hazard laid off to Dries Mertens who thumped the ball high into the net.

The Desert Foxes certainly weren’t affected by talk of previous World Cup voyages in 1982 or 1986. It has been a tournament of recoveries and fight-backs, but Algeria can return to their camp pleased with the display against the group’s favoured side.

Compact, energetic and midfield dominance:

One area of strength for Algeria, on paper, was in the centre of midfield. Nadir Bentaleb of Tottenham Hotspur and Saphir Taider from Inter Milan offered the Desert Foxes a range of options: they could be positioned deep, thus, meaning energy could be best served in the defensive-third, or the natural fitness of both could allow them to utilise the pair on the counter-attack.

The former seemed to be the thinking of Valid Halidzozic. Algeria’s organisation and positional discipline in the first 50-60 minutes was exemplary. Even when Belgium looked to vary their movement and experiment with different moves, Algeria stood firm.

Inter’s Taider completed 89% of his passes, 100% of his defensive passes and did a sterling job in recovering possession, as he did successfully seven times.

Just like his team-mates, the 22-year-old contributed to a solid defensive shape with Algeria making 33 tackles, 13 interceptions, two blocks and 27 clearances. The key to the high interceptions is the reading of the game in defence, especially, Madjid Bougherra, for example.

Concentration, organisation and game management:

The game-changing moment in this Group H match was the substitution that saw the introduction of Fellaini in attack. Regardless of his form at Old Trafford, when applied effectively, the attacking-midfielder can be devastatingly proficient in the air.

Algeria’s problems with headed goals continued. Until that point, Algeria had won only six of 24 aerial challenges. Wolfsburg’s De Bruyne – with time and space to pick out a team-mate – delivered an expert cross on to Fellaini’s head.

The concession of possession in the attacking-third was not the problem, however. There were several vital situations still to pan out – firstly, the defensive shape that was incredibly weak. Sometimes it can be hard to prepare for such a brilliant recovery from de Bruyne.

The defensive setup had two lines, practically: one for the two central-defenders, the deepest line of defence and then a 10-15 yard gap between the two full-backs. This was influential, as Belgium positioned their three attacking players who had remained in advanced positions in such a crucial vacuum between the two lines.

Once Hazard had turned 180 degrees, Algeria’s right-back may have conceded a professional foul, but the Chelsea attacker was just so quick. The two central-defenders were on the back-foot and he incisively picked out Mertens in space who added the second.

The result will be little comfort for Algeria, in the end, but the performance levels for most of the match were fantastic. Football at the highest level can be a game of small percentages, just a few yards or a few steps in the wrong position. The margins are incredibly narrow.

Belgium’s raw qualities decided the game – the cross, the header, the counter-attack. All very small instances of super game management, as the Algerians began to tire towards the end in the challenging conditions.