Belgium narrowly avoided an opening upset loss on Tuesday, squeezing past Algeria with a 2-1 scoreline.
Sofiane Feghouli put the Desert Foxes ahead with a penalty in the first half, before the Red Devils roared back, equalising through Marouane Fellaini and seeing Dries Mertens seal it with a rocket.
Formations & XIs
Belgium fielded a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid, with Nacer Chadli teasing the No. 10 position but never really utilising it. Eden Hazard started left, Kevin de Bruyne right, and Mousa Dembele was in central midfield.
Algeria set up a defensive 4-4-1-1 that sat deep, absorbed pressure and countered through Saphir Taider, Riyad Mahrez and El Arabi Soudani.
Slow and Careful
Belgium played just as slowly as we feared: moving the ball with no zip, creating very little due to the lumbering nature of their moves and offering nothing in terms of off-the-ball movement.
Algeria's low-block swamped the middle of the pitch and prevented Chadli from finding any room between the lines or in the No. 10 space; Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne wanted to come inside with the ball but couldn't.
Belgium's central midfield sat deep and largely refused to dribble forward with the ball, and Romelu Lukaku spent the half boxed in by three and man-marked by two.
Dembele and Chadli's tendency to bomb forward when Witsel had the ball deep contributed to the issue. Both players' markers subsequently dropped, squeezing around eight players into a 15-yard zone.
Belgium have no full-backs. Somehow, amid their golden generation of footballers, the country forgot to produce one single quality left- or right-sided defender.
As a result, central defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld play on each flank and retain extremely reserved roles, giving the Red Devils appropriate balance and defensive numbers.
The problem comes against low-blocks like Algeria's. When Hazard and De Bruyne received the ball wide they had no overlap, no full-back support and faced a one-on-two or one-on-three battle.
Belgium got absolutely nowhere either centrally (swamped by Carl Medjani and Co.) or in the wide areas (isolated) for 60 whole minutes.
Wilmots' Fearless Changes
Half-time saw Marc Wilmots pull no punches, bringing Dries Mertens on for Nacer Chadli and pushing De Bruyne into the No. 10 role.
"The substitutions I made injected a bit of pace, which changed the game after the break," Wilmots noted, per FIFA.com.
Mertens' introduction meant Belgium were prepared to drive at Algeria with the ball at their feet, and the Napoli winger immediately began testing the Desert Foxes' anchors and centre-backs head on.
Suddenly, the Red Devils were making headway down the right and through the centre, and that's when Wilmots sent on his third substitute: Fellaini.
He played up front as a target man, leading the line and providing an aerial threat Algeria simply couldn't handle. It was obvious from the start he was a mismatch, and his deft header equalled the score in style.
Mertens rifled in the second on a sweet counterattack, following good work from wonderkid and second substitute Divock Origi.
It was an epic comeback from Belgium and a massive tactical victory for coach Wilmots, who changed things at half-time and kept on changing until he'd got it right.
Fellaini was his third and final substitute in the 65th minute; not many managers are that willing to play all their cards so early.
Algeria looked disciplined, solid and decent on the counter. They'll have more of the ball against Russia and South Korea, so we'll be able to get a better look at them then.
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