With the 2014 FIFA World Cup firmly underway, we bring you the next in an in-depth series of match previews that centre on tactics, team selections and predicted XIs.
We open play in Group H, our final selection of teams, with Belgium vs. Algeria—a true case of David and Goliath...in relative football terms.
How Belgium Will Shape Up
Belgium are powerful, popular and expected to dominate but not without their flaws.
They're physically and technically better than most teams, and while it's tough to get the ball off them, they can give teams a surprisingly easy, low-tempo game at times.
Axel Witsel controls the midfield, they press high up the pitch to put pressure on ball players, and the attack is star-studded to say the least. Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne (key player) and Eden Hazard are fantastic to watch in full flow.
They set themselves out in a 4-3-3, but De Bruyne's advanced position makes it closer to a 4-2-3-1 in reality. Steven Defour isn't a flashy choice, but he does a good job of nullifying the opponents' best threat and is in better form than both Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele.
Is there a weakness? perhaps the full-backs. Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic told reporters in Belo Horizonte, via The Washington Post:
"With the Belgian defense, they are not all Ferraris. Belgium does have a certain weakness here [in the full-back area]."
How Algeria Will Shape Up
Algeria trialed both 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations during pre-tournament warm-up games, and it seems as though Coach Halilhodzic is opting for the former against Belgium.
It's the wise choice; Algeria hardly have room for the luxury of a true No. 10 against such an overwhelmingly skilled opponent.
Carl Medjani will patrol in front of the defence with workhorse Saphir Taider and pass-master Nabil Bentaleb ahead of him. El Arabi Soudani will be asked to hold the ball up, while Sofiane Feghouli is an ever-intriguing prospect at right attacking midfield.
Make no mistake: Algeria are better than advertised, but they won't make any waves here without possession.
2 Tactical Clashes
1. Go Wide
Belgium will need to go wide if they are to overcome Algeria's stubborn defensive approach.
The Desert Foxes will sit deep and protect their suspect defensive line with a pile of central midfielders, meaning De Bruyne and Defour/Dembele will struggle to find space.
Kevin Mirallas, Hazard and Dries Mertens are all electric with the ball at their feet, and they'll need to filter wide before coming inside and taking players on.
Belgium's full-backs are actually centre-backs, so they don't creep forward too much, leaving a lot of strain (and little support) on the shoulders of the wingers. Lukaku the battering ram could be the way.
2. Yacine Brahimi Factor
Algeria are not expecting to have much of the ball against Belgium—a conservative pregame estimate would put the likely possession at around 30 percent—and that's reflected in the dropping of dribbling machine Brahimi.
He will likely start the other two games, in which Algeria stand to play a more even role on the ball, but could he be an X-factor off the bench against the Red Devils?
He's an outrageous ball-carrier, one of the best in the game, and could easily drag Algeria out of deep situations and spark counters.
Bleacher Report will do a tactical preview and review of every single 2014 FIFA World Cup game. Stay tuned to this link and check it every day for more.
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