Napoli’s Dries Mertens’ winner ten minutes from time was enough to give Belgium victory against Algeria.
In a match in which the Europeans were frustrated for long periods, goals by substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Mertens turned the game on its head after Algeria led at the break.
Inter’s Saphir Taider and Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam were included in Algeria’s starting line-up in Belo Horizonte, while Udinese’s Hassan Yebda and Livorno’s Djamel Mesbah were named on the bench.
Belgium meanwhile are many people’s tip as dark horses to go far in the tournament and that was reflected in Coach Marc Wilmots’ line-up.
While there were no Italian based players included, 10 of Wilmots’ starting 11 ply their trade in Europe’s major five Leagues. Napoli's Dries Mertens began as a substitute.
The North Africans frustrated their European opponents early on, sitting very deep and allowing the Red Devils to dictate possession. They even had the game’s first real effort of note, but Riyad Mahrez sliced wide.
Belgium’s first threat was provided by Axel Witsel, who unleashed a 25-yard drive that was beaten away by the Algerian goalkeeper Abi Mbholi.
Moments later, however, the Algerians took a shock lead when a swift counter-attack ended with Feghouli being hauled down in the penalty area by Jan Vertonghen.
Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, with Feghouli coolly picking himself up to slot home from 12 yards.
Belgium tried to respond but the pattern of play remained very much the same, with Algeria remaining very well organised and denying their opponents space in the final third. Again Witsel let fly, but again Mbholi was equal to it. Vertonghen also blasted over from a free-kick as he tried to make amends for his earlier error.
The Belgians looked more threatening in the final moments of the half but Algeria held firm until the break.
Napoli’s Mertens came on for the start of the second half, replacing Nacer Chadli, but Belgium had to wait until 25 minutes from time before creating a serious chance to equalise.
Fellow substitute Divock Origi found himself through on goal but fired an effort straight at the legs of Mbolhi.
The Red Devils by now were going more direct and it was causing the North Africans more problems. On 70 minutes it paid dividends as Wilmots’ team conjured up an equaliser. Kevin De Bruyne’s cross from the left was excellently headed in by the Belgians’ third substitution of the afternoon, Marouane Fellaini.
The turnaround was complete just under ten minutes later. Following a rare Algerian foray forward, the Belgians took full advantage with a clinical counter-attack.
Some swift interplay ended with the ball at the feet of Mertens, who blasted home to give his side the lead for the first time in the match.
Belgium continued to chase goals and Fellaini saw another bullet header saved by Mbolhi. Algeria could not create a meaningful chance to equalise as Belgium saw out a valuable win.
Belgium 2 – 1 Algeria
Scorers: Feghouli p 24 (A), Fellaini 70 (B), Mertens 80 (B)
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen, Witsel, Dembele (Fellaini 65), De Bruyne, Hazard, Chadli (Mertens 45), Lukaku (Origi 58)
Algeria: Mbolhi, Bougherra, Ghoulam, Halliche, Feghouli, Medjani (Ghilas 84), Bentaleb, Soudani (Slimani 66), Taider, Mahrez (Lacen 71), Mostefa
Ref: Marco Rodriguez (MEX)
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