The FourFourTwo Preview: Belgium vs Algeria
Diables Rouges against Fennec Foxes. And in English: the Red Devils against the Desert Foxes.
Featuring in the World Cup finals for the fourth time, Algeria will be hoping they can escape the group and make the knockout stages for the first time. Drawn in the same group as Russia and South Korea, they're blessed with enough attacking élan to push both hard when the opportunity presents itself.
Playing a 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1, coach Vahid Halilhodzic will take a safety first approach, looking to contain, counter and have their fun from set pieces. Their hopes of making progress have been hindered by having to face Belgium's Golden Generation in their first game, however.
Able to call on European football's finest young goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois, the cool, calculating Vincent Kompany and Chelsea's creative imp Eden Hazard, plus blessed with the likes of Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel, Belgium have a collection of world-class individuals who were being touted as dark horses in Brazil until a run of poor friendly results downgraded expectations.
Unconvincing at the back, Courtois and Kompany aside, and deprived of first-choice striker Christian Benteke through injury, the jury remains out on how good they are and how far they can go for the time being. With Portugal or Germany likely to be lurking in the knockouts, we should soon have our answer.
What the local media say
Belgian newspaper Het Laaste Nieuws has set the bar at the quarter-finals, confident they will escape an "easy group". Algerian publication Competition suggests their current crop have the attacking potential to do what they've not previously done in three finals and qualify for the knockout stages.
Key battle: Islam Slimani vs Vincent Kompany
His country's player of the year in 2013 and their top scorer in qualifying, Sporting Lisbon's Slimani offers Algeria's best hope of scoring a World Cup finals goal. They haven't scored in their last five games, dating back 71 shots to 1986, when Zinedine's great granddad Djamel Zidane netted against Northern Ireland. If that's to change against Belgium, Slimani will need to get the better of first the Manchester City skipper, then the impressive Courtois. In truth, it's hard to see that goal famine ending in this one.
Facts and figures
- Belgium have won only 1 of their last 9 World Cup games (3-2 v Russia on 14 June 2002), drawing 5 and losing 3. They have kept 1 clean sheet in these 9 games: v Netherlands in 1998 (0-0).
- Belgium are unbeaten in their last 2 World Cup group stages, in 1998 and 2002, winning 1 and drawing 5.
- Belgium are also unbeaten in 2 previous internationals against Algeria, winning 1 and drawing 1 (both friendlies).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Belgium should have enough options to finally break down a well-drilled Algeria. 2-0.