FINAL: Belgium 2, Algeria 1
It certainly wasn't as easy as the Belgians had anticipated but two second half goals from substitutes were the difference as Marc Wilmots' club downed Algeria 2-1 on Tuesday.
The first half couldn't have gone any better for the Algerians, who, while defending for the majority of the half, took advantage with a quick counter that led to a penalty kick. Sofiane Feghouli buried the first goal, but for the rest of the half, the Algerians were on their heels trying to stave off the Belgian attack.
With star striker Romelu Lukaku already out of the game due to inactivity, Belgian forwards Marouane Fellaini and Dries Merterns took advantage of their chances. Fellaini (and his fro) knocked one in off an angled cross in the 70th minute while Mertens cleaned up a Belgian breakaway with a right-footed blast. It wasn't clean, and the Belgians certainly could've had a few more goals, but a win's a win for the Group H favorite.
Difficult loss for Algeria which did everything it could from a defensive standpoint to stop their opponent. Keeper Rais Bolhi played exceptionally well, but the Belgians had too many weapons.
93' -- A late throw in deep in Belgium's zone goes for nothing as the defense clears it out of the box. Hazard carried it up the pitch before the whistle was blown and the Belgian's hung on for the win.
90'+ -- Three minutes of extra time. Algeria has barely touched the ball since allowing the second goal.
88' -- Fellaini with a beautiful chest trap in the middle of the box, but he loses his footing and can't get a shot off. Another break for Algeria, but it still hasn't mustered many offensive chances this half.
85' -- Algeria's defense, lead by Bouguerra, is finally showing some cracks. After 80+ minutes, it was bound to happen.
84' -- Fellaini ALMOST heads in another but a great save keeps it a one-goal game.
83' -- Broadcast showed cut of Algerian fans, who looked absolutely dejected. Looked like maybe 3 points, but now, perhaps none.
Belgium's second tally from Dries Mertens:
79' -- GOALL!!!!! MERTENS!!! The sub finishes off a 3-on-2 with a blast from the right side. An absolute rocket. Great vision from Hazard to set that up.
78' -- De Bruyne with a rip from way outside, but a deflection keeps the ball in for the Belgians. They're going to press high for the next 12+ minutes.
74' -- Belgium's up 64-36 in terms of ball control and has 13 shots compared to just 3 for the Algerians. The Algerians have been dangerous though in open space.
BIG HAIR GOAL --
70' -- GOAL!!!! FELLAINI!!!! He heads one off the fro from an angled cross from De Bruyne!! Wow. Game on.
66' -- Bolhi with a one-legged stop off a one-v-one chance from Origi. That, from Lukaku's sub, was the best chance of the match. Corner coming for the Belgians.
65' -- SUB: Fellaini in, Dembele out for Belgium
64' -- There are eight Algerian defenders in the box taking on three or four attackers from Belgium. Wonder if the best bet for a goal will be off a counter attack?
Romelu Lukaku: Failed to register a shot in his 58 mins of action today vs Algeria #bel— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 17, 2014
60' -- 30 minutes left. Can the Algerians hold on? It's coupled a few nice offensive sets together to relieve the defense.
58' -- SUB Lukaku out for Divock Origi. Pretty surprising sub given Lukaku's talent, but he wasn't particularly active.
56' -- Medjani almost flicks a header off a corner into the side netting but danger averted for the Belgians. They're playing with fire.
54' -- Great save from Bolhi to ward off a dangerous cross. You get the feeling that the Belgians never envisioned they'd be in this position.
51' -- Eden Hazard and Mehdi Mostefa down after a physical challenge. Nothing more than that and after some acting, both are (miraculously) on their feet.
48' -- Mertens with a corner for the Belgians and Axel Witsel nearly heads it in. In fact, he probably should of scored but instead he bumps it over the bar. Really feels like it's coming soon.
47' -- The opening sequence of the second half looks a bit better from the Belgians as they aren't settling for worthless shots but trying to progress inside.
HALFTIME: Couldn't ask for more if you're Algeria. They played the first half perfectly with all 10 men behind the ball, and took advantage of a counter break that ultimately earned them a penalty kick from Sofiane Feghouli.
The strategy doesn't change for the Desert Foxes as they'll continue to pack it in to try and maintain their first World Cup lead in a long, long time. For young Belgium, they look out of sorts.
There were far too many unrealistic shots from their midfielders that lost possession instead of trying to work the ball through Hazard or Lukaku up top. The combination play was a bit better over the last five minutes of the half, but they'd benefit from pressing closer to the line rather than risk not even putting the ball on target. If this lead stands -- I don't think it will -- it would shake up Group H substantially.
45'+ -- One minute of added time. It looks as if Algeria's going to take this surprising lead into half.
44' -- Hazard works a beautiful pass off an angled run from Chadli deep inside the box but his touch took him too far left, and he didn't have an angle. It's coming. Maybe not this half, but it's coming.
42' -- Nacer Chadli with another needless, low-percentage rip from way outside the box. The Belgians are just kicking away possession and giving the Algerians a chance.
38' -- Fullback Alderweireld earns a dangerous foul just outside the box for the Belgians, but again, they botch the chance by blasting it over the goal.
35' -- Witsel again from deep, but the Algerian keeper pushes it out of harm's way. Belgium is getting closer.
34' -- Yellow card for Algeria's Bentaleb with a high forearm against Dembele.
32' -- Better from De Bruyne as he works it into the box and earns a corner, but another awful set piece leaves the Belgians with no chance to get a head on it.
30' -- De Bruyne with a worthless set piece from deep outside the box. He lofts it wide right, nowhere near any of his teammates. Belgium looks absolutely stunned. Keep in mind this team is very, very young.
The foul and the Algerian goal:
Ghoulam had a wonderful cross from the left side and defender Jan Vertonghen took down an Algerian striker in the box. Feghouli buried the ball to the right for the early lead.
That's Algeria's first goal in a World Cup since 1986, per the broadcast. Huge turn of events.
24' -- GOALL!!! ALGERIA TAKES THE LEAD AS SOFIANE FEGHOULI BURIES THE PK. WOW.
23' -- PENALTY AGAINST BELGIUM!!!
22' -- Belgium starting to look a bit frustated with all 10 of Algeria's men back behind the ball. Good activity from forwards Mahrez and Soudani.
20' -- Belgium's MF Axel Witsel (what a name!) blasts one from outside the box but the keeper deflects it. All kinds of power behind that shot but Belgium isn't getting much close to the goal.
18' -- Huge punt from Algeria's keeper Bolhi nearly sets up Mahrez with an opportunity against Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois. Mahrez blasts it wide left, but a decent chance nonetheless.
15' -- Stupid foul from Romelu Lukaku with a late tackle and he has yet to have an impact in the attacking third.
13' -- Belgium's full side is pressing high and beginning to impose its will in terms of possession. Kevin De Bruyne heavily involved as an attacking midfielder.
8' -- Algeria looks far from overmatched right now. Sure, Belgium has some name recognition but Algeria's Bouguerra is a stud defender with a ton of experience. The Foxes possessing the ball well out of the back.
5' -- Chelsea's Eden Hazard with a nice early run deep into Algeria's zone. He's a potential breakout star this World Cup.
3' -- Impressed with Algeria early on as they've tested Vincent Kompany twice now with solid crosses.
1' -- We're off from Belo Horizonte.
PREGAME: Belgium kicks off its World Cup campaign as the Group H favorites against an Algeria team that severely lacks star power.
Algeria vs. Belgium (Group H) | Kickoff: 6/17, 12 p.m. ET | Stadium: Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Match Preview: Belgium's back in the World Cup for the first time since 2002, but despite the lengthy departure, it seems to be everyone's tournament darkhorse.
Group H shouldn't provide much resistance, and Algeria gets the unenviable task of facing the group's best team to open its own campaign. This is the same Algeria team that failed to score even one goal in South Africa.
Belgium plays fast and has a vast crop of talented wingers, including Chelsea players Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. It scored 18 goals in qualifying and allowed in just four. Algeria doesn't boast nearly the talent of Belgium, and certainly can't keep up with its scoring prowess.
Algeria may have a shot at earning a point against the Korea Republic in its second game, but it shouldn't expect a promising result from tomorrow's match.