It was an infuriating day for Belgium as they found it really hard to open up a determined Algerian team. Tipped as the fifth favourites to win the World Cup, Belgium found themselves trailing in the 24th minute when Sofiane Feghouli scored from the spot. Late fight back from Belgium resulted in two goals in the space of 10 minutes. Expectations were high on the so called “Golden Generation” of Belgium but due to a resilient defensive display of Algeria, the Belgians could only manage to score two goals.
Marc Wilmots started with four centre backs as Belgium’s defenders. Thomas Vermaelen was benched and veteran Daniel van Buyten was included in the starting line-up. Nacer Chadli was selected ahead of Napoli star Dries Mertens.
Vahid Halilhodzic made a few changes too. Algerian Player of the Year Islam Slimani was overlooked and Soudani was selected. Aissa Mandi was left out on the bench and Mehdi Mostefa started instead of him.
Belgium employed 4-2-3-1 formation, which is a counter attacking formation. In the second half, 4-1-4-1 system was adopted.
Algeria used 4-3-2-1 formation with a good defensive organization.
Algeria’s approach –
Algeria decided to be defensively sound and adopted 4-3-2-1 system with two defensive midfielders – Nabil Bentaleb and Carl Medjani. Algeria defended deep and acted on the break by pumping the ball higher up the pitch (long passes).
1. Reducing the space between the defensive and midfield lines
Belgium’s attacking midfield comprised of Chadli, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. Three highly talented players who can utilize the space and time provided by the opposition to somehow create a scoring opportunity. With Algeria’s attacking midfielders,Feghouli and Riyad Mahrez, joining the central midfielders, the space was reduced and also the Belgians were put under pressure by Algeria’s pressing.
2. Interceptions and blocks
Belgium players were rarely seen inside Algeria’s box in the first 45 minutes. The Belgians were not even allowed supply the killer passes mainly because Algerian players clever interceptions. The first half was utter disappointment for Belgium. The first 25 minutes of second half were no different.
3. Counter attacking –
Algeria were very fast while counter attacking. Intercepted balls were directly passed on to either the forward striding left back – Faouzi Ghoualm or the striker Soudani. Belgium were caught on the break a few times. Absence of natural wingbacks was a problem to Belgium and it was highlighted when Vertonghen misjudged the situation and committed a blunder by bringing down Feghouli inside the box (Vertonghen’s natural position is centre back).
Kevin de Bruyne and Hazard-
De Bruyne started on the right side of the central attacking midfielder. He was roaming all over the pitch. By making some decisive passes and providing good crosses, de Bryune posed problems for Algerian defence. He added fluidity to Belgium’s play. He also assisted Maruoane Fellaini in the 70th minute which put Belgium back on level terms with Algeria. He played a crucial role in Belgium’s victory over Algeria.
Hazard displayed some superb soccer today. According to me he was the best player on the pitch. In the early stages of the game he was tightly marked by Mostefa. Hazard failed to deliver a couple of times in the first fifteen minutes.
But then he kept on going and was able to beat the Algerian right back to provide a low cross, which Lukaku was unable to meet. He totally created three chances. Aided Mertens to score the second goal for Belgium.
Algeria were close to victory but lost in the final minutes. In this edition of World Cup plenty of goals have been scored. But Algeria showed it was possible to win even by adopting defensive tactics.
For Belgium, if they are to be considered as one among the favourites, then they will have to be clinical with finishing. Good co-ordination must exist between the players.
Best performance – Eden Hazard
Worst performance – Romelu Lukaku