Marc Wilmots had his substitutes to thank after helping turn around a game that for long periods looked like ending with a surprise victory for the African side.
A host of Premier League talent was on show in Belo Horizonte; Romelu Lukaku starting up front ahead of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Nacer Chadli, while Algeria's XI featured Tottenham Hotspur starlet Nabil Bentaleb, who only pledged his international future to the Fennec Foxes in February.
The Algerians settled quicker into the contest. While they enjoyed more possession in the opening 10 minutes, the underdogs weren't doing any damage in Belgium's third of the pitch.
Belgium began to string the passes around and patiently probe for an opening, yet they were undone following a rare Algeria attack. Jan Vertonghen's clumsy foul allowed Sofiane Feghouli to net from 12 yards. Algeria had failed to score in their previous 5 World Cup games; firing in 71 unsuccessful shots since their last goal against Northern Ireland at Mexico '86.
Wilmots' men were being restricted to (plenty of) shots from distance as the Algerian defence successfully kept Hazard & Co. at arm's length. It was 43 minutes before they found some penetration; Hazard breaking free and feeding Nacer Chadli inside the danger zone, but the Spurs man's shot was comfortably saved.
Belgium trudged off at half-time after a one-dimensional display, trailing to Algeria's only shot on target.
The Fennec Foxes completed just 6 attacking third passes in the entire opening period, but worked hard to protect their advantage by winning 12/19 tackles.
Inter Milan's Saphir Taider enjoyed a solid half in central midfield, making more ball recoveries than anyone else on the pitch to help thwart the Red Devils.
Chelsea striker Lukaku cut a frustrated figure at the break. Given no service in the box, the powerful frontman had to drop deep to collect the ball, and he was hauled off just 13 minutes into the second half.
Little had changed after an hour, Algeria happy to dig in and chip ball into the channels away from danger, while Belgium lacked penetration despite dominating possession.
Wilmots had made all three of his substitutions within 20 minutes of the restart, and it eventually worked wonders with two of them providing the goals to turn the game on its head.
Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini proved the game-changers, the former's intensity down the right keeping Belgium on the front foot and the much-maligned Manchester United man proving a nuisance up top.
Belgium's late surge allowed Hazard to flourish, the Chelsea man ending the game having made the most attacking third passes (18), completed the most take-ons (5) and created the most chances (4) including the pass for Mertens' winner.
Algeria will leave frustrated at seeing a lead turn into a deficit in the space of 10 second half minutes, having looked so comfortable up until Fellaini's 70th-minute leveller. But they paid the price for dropping off as the second period progressed. After creating their one and only chance of the half, from a corner, in the 57th minute, Vahid Halilhodzic's side showed little ambition going forward, as the need to protect their advantage outweighed the desire to seek a killer second goal.
Facts and figures
- Belgium are now unbeaten in their last 7 World Cup group games, winning 2 (D5).
- This was Belgium’s second victory in 22 games in which they’ve gone behind in at the World Cup.
- Sofiane Feghouli’s penalty ended a run of 506 minutes without a goal for Algeria at the World Cup finals.
- Belgium haven't kept a clean sheet in their last 7 World Cup games.
- Romelu Lukaku failed to register a single touch in the opposition area against Algeria.
- 7 of the last 8 goals Algeria have conceded at the World Cup finals have arrived in the second half.
- Thibaut Courtois is yet to lose a match with the Belgium national team (W12, D6).
- It’s the second time in this edition of the World Cup that 2 substitutes have scored for the same team in the game (Switzerland the other vs Ecuador).
- Algeria scored from their 1 and only shot on target against Belgium.
- Belgium’s last 4 World Cup goals have been scored in the 70th minute or later.
- Belgium’s possession of 67.1% against Algeria is the best they’ve managed in a World Cup game since 1966.