|Dries Mertens celebrates his goal
Belo Horizonte: Belgium opened their World Cup campaign with a 2-1 comeback win over Algeria on Tuesday, relying on second-half goals from two substitutes after a tense start in Group H.
Algeria opened the scoring with a penalty in the 25th minute and the surprising lead stood for 45 minutes until Marouane Fellaini’s strong glancing header, with his back to goal, from a Kevin De Bruyne cross.
Fellaini, who many had considered would start the match, had only come onto the pitch five minutes earlier and was coach Marc Wilmots’ final substitution.
Ten minutes later, Dries Mertens’ right-foot strike beat Algeria’s goalkeeper after Eden Hazard saw him free on the right and set him up for the decider. Mertens, who went on at the start of the second half, sent his shot high in the net outside of Rais Mbolhi’s reach.
“We knew it would be tough, that there would be no space,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. “We made one error and we paid for it. The bench made the difference. We showed mental strength and we came back.”
Algeria attacking midfielder Sofiane Feghouli converted a penalty in the first half after he was dragged down in the area by Belgium left back Jan Vertonghen.
At that point, Algeria were on course to produce another upset of a major team as they did in 1982 when they beat West Germany in their first group match. But the Algerians were tired by the end, having started the game brightly.
Belgium are widely billed as the favourites in Group H, which also includes Russia and South Korea. But Algeria dominated possession in the opening minutes, surging forward and moving the ball with flair. Belgium eventually settled down and regained control, ending the match with 65 percent possession.
Before Belgium’s comeback, the Algeria defence held firm, setting up bulwark in the final third of the pitch. When Belgium had the ball, Algeria defenders allowed them little room to manoeuvre. Algerian defenders at times doubled up on Hazard.
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Daniel Van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen; Axel Witsel, Moussa Dembele (Marouane Fellaini, 65), Nacer Chadli (Dries Mertens, 46), Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard; Romelu Lukaku (Divock Origi, 58).
Algeria: Rais M’Bolhi; Madjid Bouguerra, Rafik Halliche, Faouzi Ghoulam, Carl Medjani (Nabil Ghilas, 84); Mehdi Mostefa, Saphir Taider, Nabil Bentaleb; Sofiane Feghouli, Riyad Mahrez (Mehdi Lacen, 71), El Arabi Soudani (Islam Slimani, 66).
Man of the Match: Kevin de Bruyne
Referee: Marco Rodriguez (Mexico)