Belgium rally to beat gritty Algeria

Belgium rally to beat gritty Algeria

Much-fancied Belgium fought back from a goal down to score twice in the final 20 minutes and earn a hard-fought 2-1 victory over gutsy Algeria in their World Cup Group H opener on Tuesday.

Goals from substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens turned the game around after Algeria playmaker Sofiane Feghouli had given them a 25th minute lead with a penalty at the Mineirao stadium.

"It was a tough match but we were patient throughout and at the end we were rewarded," said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots. Golascorer Mertens added: "I had my family in the stands. It was great to score for them and for the whole of Belgium.

"We got the three points and it is important to start with a victory. Now we have to go and win the second match as well."

Belgium, back at the World Cup after a 12-year absence, enjoyed the majority of possession but struggled to break down a disciplined two-line Algerian defence which kept Eden Hazard and forward Romelu Lukaku well in check.

The Algerians, with El Arabi Soudani surprisingly in the starting lineup for key forward Islam Slimani, posed little threat up front with winger Riyad Mahrez firing well wide in their only foray in the Belgian box early in the game.

They were far more successful the second time they ventured forward when left back Jan Vertonghen brought down Feghouli after a fine cross from Faouzi Ghoulam.

Feghouli calmly fired past keeper Thibaut Courtois to end his country's 28-year wait for a World Cup goal and send the green-white-clad Algerian fans delirious.

Belgium's Axel Witsel tried his luck with a couple of long-range shots but the Red Devils looked nothing like the menacing team that qualified unbeaten for the tournament.

Coach Wilmots, the last Belgium player to score in a World Cup before Tuesday, took off lacklustre Lukaku early in the second half, bringing on teenager Divock Origi in the hope of breathing new life into his team.

It almost paid off instantly when the 19-year-old raced clear but failed to beat keeper Rais Mbohli with Algeria firmly on the backfoot. It was Wilmots' other substitute, Fellaini, who delivered when he rose high to meet a Kevin De Bruyne cross and drill his header off the bar and into goal on 70 minutes.

The Desert Foxes, who had hardly put a foot wrong in defence, were caught napping 10 minutes later when Hazard raced down the left wing, and passed perfectly for subsititute Mertens to fire in for the win.

"It's a major disappointment," said Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic. "We are sorry. I deeply regret the result. We missed a great opportunity here. But in the second half it was a bit tough. We left too much space to the Belgian team and the two goals scored against us were to be expected." 

Wilmots praised his highly-fancied team's organisation after a slow World Cup start as they hit back from a goal down to break the Africans' resistance and win their Group H opener 2-1.

"They had one opportunity and it was a penalty. So our organization was perfect,"

Wilmots told reporters after Belgium recovered from a sluggish first half and a penalty to score twice in the last 20 minutes.

He smarted at suggestions from reporters that Belgium began badly, saying the game plan was to wear down Algeria slowly.

"I think half of Belgium sent me text messages, saying 'shout, tell them to move'. If you have good organization, there will be opportunities, you have to be patient.

"Did you expect us to win 4-0, 5-0? Well Algeria's 22 in the world ranking, you know ... Do you realize where we are now? It's a World Cup. There are no weak teams. In order to win, you have to reach the limits of pain, not regret anything."

Wilmots said he knew Algeria would tire in the latter stages and was not surprised his team scored on 70 and 80 minutes.