Hello fútbol fans! It’s time for the first installment of Belgian Waffles, El Bolso’s look at Belgium’s 2014 World Cup campaign. The boys had a tough time with Algeria yesterday, but managed to come out on top.
The Belgian national team has a bit of a reputation for being an underachiever, and the first half did nothing to dispel those notions. Despite dominating time of possession and holding a 7-2 edge in shots, the Red Devils found themselves down 1-0 at halftime due to some nervous finishing up front and one terrible decision on the defensive end. Algerian striker Sofiane Feghouli was taken down by Jan Vertonghen as he was trying to get to a cross in the right side of the penalty box. It looked like Feghouli wasn’t even going to get to the ball, or at worst would have a very tough shot on goal, but Vertonghen’s clumsy challenge bailed him out, as Feghouli himself opened the scoring from the spot. The Belgians had several opportunities to tie the game but, perhaps feeling the pressure of being labelled the tournament’s dark horse candidate, were unable to find the back of the net.
Give coach Marc Wilmots credit, he’s not afraid to shake things up. Looking for a way to give his team an edge, he burned all three of his substitutions early on in the second half: Dries Mertens came on immediately following the break, followed by Divock Origi (minute 58) and Marouane Fellaini (minute 65). Origi had a clear chance to even the score but could not get it past the Algerian keeper, but then the roster shuffle paid off. In the 70th minute, Kevin De Bruyne crossed a ball into the heart of the box. Fellaini jumped alongside his defender and was able to put his Valderrama-like locks on the ball, heading it off the crossbar and in. Ten minutes later, a great takeaway by de Bruyne (making up for a pretty bad first half) led to a run up the left side by Chelsea star Eden Hazard. Hazard sent a low ball behind the retreating Algerian defense all the way to a wide open Mertens on the right side of the box. Mertens faced the keeper and calmly finished the play to give Belgium the lead. Ten uneventful minutes later, Belgium had themselves three points and, after a tie between Russia and South Korea, the early group lead.
Still, Belgium will have to tame those butterflies if it hopes to get far in the tournament. A game in which they outshot their opponents 16-3 and held the ball 65% of the time should not have been anywhere near this close. The 32 fouls committed by the Belgians are also a concern, as a less forgiving referee may have handed out more than the one yellow card. After the first 90 minutes of play, Belgium is where they wanted to be numbers-wise, but they’ve done nothing to address the concerns of those who fear this is yet another Red Devils team destined to go out with a whimper when the going gets tough. We’ll see how they do against the Russians on Sunday.
Algeria’s Penalty Kick for the Lead:
Mertens for the Win:
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