Belgium vs. Algeria: 6 Things We Learned
On Tuesday, Belgium finally kicked off their World Cup campaign against Algeria.
The North African side proved to be tough opposition. In the first half, they even managed to take the lead when Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli scored the opening goal.
In the second half, Belgium managed to regroup. Marouane Fellaini equalised in the 70th minute, and minutes later, Dries Mertens bagged the winner.
Belgium won, but it was far from easy. Here, we take a look at the six most important lessons they must take from this match.
Difficulties Against Deep Defensive Line
With players such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Nacer Chadli starting, there was no shortage of creativity in Belgium's first XI.
Yet during the first half, the Rode Duivels seemed unable to penetrate Algeria's defence, and even Hazard, who attempted a couple of dribbles, seemed powerless.
In part, this was because Algeria sat deep and defended well. Even with all their creativity, the Belgians were denied a way through.
In the second half, manager Marc Wilmots responded adequately by making the right changes. But Belgium's first-half performance does lead to the question: Will the creativity of Belgium's midfield be of use against solid defensive teams?
Mertens Needs to Start
During Belgium's preparatory campaign, it was unclear who would start as the Rode Duivels' right-winger. Nacer Chadli, Kevin Mirallas, Dries Mertens and Adnan Januzaj were all candidates.
Ultimately, Wilmots went for Kevin de Bruyne, opting for Chadli in the central playmaking role.
It should be said, however, that this setup was in large part theoretical: De Bruyne, Chadli and Hazard interchanged positions fluidly.
But despite Belgium's midfield creativity, it didn't quite work, forcing Wilmots to put De Bruyne back in the middle and taking off Chadli for Napoli's Mertens.
Less of a technical midfielder and more of a skilful runner, Mertens provided something different immediately, and his ability to take on the opposition's defence changed the game for Belgium.
Deep in the second half, Mertens even scored the winning goal. Surely, that settles the debate. Mertens must start as Belgium's right-winger.
De Bruyne Is Better in the Centre
By taking off Chadli for Mertens, Wilmots put De Bruyne back in his natural position in the centre of the attacking midfield.
This allowed De Bruyne to move closer to Romelu Lukaku—and later Divock Origi—and exert more influence in the box.
Playing Mertens as the right-winger allows Wilmots to play De Bruyne as his central playmaker, thus killing two birds with one stone.
Hazard Needs to Step Up
Ultimately, it was Mertens who changed the game in the second half by daring to take on defenders—and succeeding. In a way, the Napoli winger managed to add what Hazard had failed to deliver.
Of course, this was made difficult by Algeria's solid defensive effort in the first half, but Hazard has proven he's an exceptional player for Chelsea. Now he needs to start performing for his country as well.
As usual, Hazard was given a remarkable amount of creative freedom against Algeria, but once again, the winger failed to repay the faith put in him by his manager.
Is Fellaini a Super-Sub?
Before the match, it was still unclear who would start in the centre of midfield. Although Marouane Fellaini played well there during Belgium's preparatory friendlies, Wilmots eventually went for Moussa Dembele.
Undoubtedly, Wilmots preferred Dembele's piercing creativity against a defensive Algeria side. But in the end, it was Fellaini's physical power that saved the day for Belgium.
By providing a more direct alternative when the creative passing game seemed to fail , Fellaini showed himself to be the perfect super-sub.
Pressure Might Be an Issue
Everything considered, it almost seemed as if the pressure of playing in a World Cup played a part in Belgium's lacklustre performance in the first half.
After all, this is the first time this generation of Belgian players is taking part in a major international tournament. Of course, a lot of the players have played in the Premier League or in another major competition, but the World Cup is the biggest stage there is.
Hopefully for the Belgian fans, nerves will not be an issue when the Rode Duivels face Russia on Sunday.