On the hour-mark, Algeria looked completely comfortable and more than capable of holding on for the victory. Romelu Lukaku was being well shackled by Majid Bougherra and Rafik Halliche, while Eden Hazard was starved of the necessary space to work his magic. While many managers seem to perennially wait for the 70-minute-mark before making a change, Wilmots – like all good coaches – identified the problems his side were facing and quickly set about fixing them with three early substitutions. Nacer Chadli’s poor display was typical of Belgium’s ponderous first half and Wilmots, realising that the tempo needed to be lifted, unleashed the pacey Dries Mertens from the bench for the second half, who went on to score the winning goal. But come the hour things had not improved drastically enough for Wilmots, so he threw on the added pace of Divock Origi and the power of Marouane Fellaini, whose combined attributes gave Belgium the much-needed force they required to snatch victory away from Algeria.
Playing essentially four central defenders across the back may be fine if a team simply wants to frustrate the opposition. But for a team like Belgium, who have much loftier ambitions, it hindered them. Even one of the defenders playing in the middle, Daniel Van Buyten, looks as though he may have a mistake in him. Riyad Mahrez’s wild shot early shot in the first half after pinching the ball from Van Buyten back did not disguise the fact that the towering centre-back’s immobility can be exploited by more potent foes. The lack of specialist full-backs was also to the Red Devils’ detriment going forward and at the back. Naturally attacking full-backs would have given them additional threat going forward, while the palpable discomfort of both Alderweireld and Vertonghen at full-back was demonstrated in the passage of play leading to the Algeria penalty. First the Atletico Madrid defender failed to stop Faouzi Ghoulam’s cross, then the Tottenham man clumsily brought down Sofiane Feghouli after failing to get goal-side of the Valencia winger.
So their resistance was broken ultimately, but Algeria showed enough to suggest they could yet qualify from Group H and certainly enough to at least give Russia and South Korea run for their money. Ghana’s all-action if slightly toothless display against the USA may have been entertaining, but the Ghanaians could do much worse than take a leaf out of their African compatriots’ book for their next encounter. The Algerians’ organisation is admirable if not aesthetically-pleasing. The back four were seldom out of position with Majid Bougherra and Rafik Halliche shackling Romelu Lukaku extremely efficiently. They were shielded by the combative duo of Nabil Bentaleb and Carl Medjani who used the ball decently when allowed to. Although they do not venture forward often, the Desert Foxes do pose a threat out wide through the pace and trickery of Sofiane Feghouli and to a lesser extent Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. If Algeria qualify from Group H it won’t be exciting, but it will be a victory for tactical discipline.
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