The Red Devils kicked off their first World Cup campaign in twelve years against Algeria. Belgium had been tipped by many before the tournament as “Dark Horses” however, with a pool of talent at their disposal it won’t be a surprise to anyone if they are to make at mark in Brazil. Pre tournament the Belgians were as short as fifth favourites with the bookies, perhaps not as underrated as many thought. Chelsea’s Thiabut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard made the starting eleven with recent former blue Kevin De Bruyne also in appearance.
Algeria started with familiar names such as Taider of Inter Milan, Valencia’s Feghouli and Tim Sherwoods golden boy Nabil Bentaleb.
Belgium opened the game in a cagey and slow manor, throwing a few jabs as they tried to find their feet at World Cup level. Hazard started brightly out on the left-wing but was marked tightly by Algerian right-back Mostefa allowing the Chelsea man no room at all to whip in a cross.
Algeria defended deep allowing no space in between the lines. Safety in numbers seemed to be their first half approach with the occasional break forward, and it was the Africans who had the first shot of the game which went well wide.
Belgium’s slow build up play meant they were limited to long shots from outside the area, Witsel gathered the ball 25 yards from goal and hit a thunderous shot which was palmed away by the Algerian keeper.
Ghoulam put in a good cross from the left hand side which at first didn’t seem to trouble the Belgian defence until, Feghouli burst into the box hoping to get on the end of it, only to be brought down unnecessarily by Spurs’ Jan Vertonghen and a penalty was rightly awarded. Feghouli himself stepped up to take it and sent Courtois the wrong way as the Algerians took a shock lead.
Continued disciplined defence from Algeria meant Belgium were still limited to shots from distance, Witsel again tested the keeper whilst Vertonghen blazed a free kick over the bar.
Hazard, for the first time in the half, managed to create some space as he evaded a few challenges, he played a brilliant pass to Chadli who wasted Belgium’s first real chance of the match.
Half time came and went with Belgium coach Marc Wilmots introducing live wire Dries Mertens and withdrawing Nacer Chadli who was frankly very poor and lucky to be in the starting XI. Although Mertens instigated some faster attacks, the result was still the same and no breakthrough was made. Wilmots made two substitutions in quick time taking off Lukaku and Dembelé, replacing them with Origi and Fellaini.
Both subs made an instant impact, Belgium’s short passing in around the box had changed to a more direct style of play. Origi fashioned a chance for himself out of nothing, baring down on goal the Lille youngster hit a soft shot which was well saved by the Algerian keepers legs.
On the 70th minute Kevin De Bruyne whipped in a brilliant ball from the left hand side finding teammate Fellaini, who headed the ball off the underside of the crossbar to set up a brilliant finale, as the Red Devils drew level.
Hazard let the ball run across his body as he entered the Algerian half. Spotting Mertens on the right-wing Hazard played a great ball into his path and the Napoli player hammered the ball into the goal to take Belgium into an 80th minute lead. The game fizzled out with Belgium content with a 2-1 win.
Romelu Lukaku was bitterly disappointing, he failed to register a single touch in the opposition area and was anonymous throughout the game, if he has any intention of returning to Chelsea (and if Mourinho wants him back) then he must show more. His build up play and runs in behind need to improve. Courtois didn’t have a chance to show his class as picking the ball out of the net was the only thing he had to do. Eden Hazard showed the form Chelsea fans have been used to seeing from him in the last two seasons. As the game stretched, the winger was able to roam more freely without constant pressure from the opposing full-back, dribbling past players and creating chances. If Wilmots is looking to make his Belgians a real force, Hazard should be given a free role.