Belo Horizonte hosts the first match of group H as Belgium play Algeria in the early kick-off. European upstarts Belgium are making a return to the World Cup after a mini hiatus while African side Algeria will look to improve on a poor showing in the previous World Cup. The Red Devils are many people’s favourite underdog and are billed as the dark horses while Algeria would do pretty well to progress from an easy-looking group.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has no fresh injury problems after the Romelu Lukaku scare in the warm-up games. Lukaku is fit and will be carrying the goalscoring burden in the absence of first-choice striker Christian Benteke. Belgiium boasts of very good players who ply theri trades in various top European clubs. Eden Hazard is the bonafide star, while Kevin de Bruyne is the key playmaker. Belgium will line-up in a 4-3-2-1 wide setup with their four-man defence made up entirely of centre-backs. Either Kevin Mirallas or Dries Mertens could start on the right of midfield; the rest of the XI virtually selects itself.
Algeria will be expected to field a similar 4-2-3-1 but with a slightly different and more defensive intent. The defence will be spearheaded by experienced captain Madjid Bougherra while having relatively inexperienced partners alongside him. Hassan Yebda’s experience will be needed in the centre of the park; Inter’s young Saphir Taider is expected to get the nod head of Tottenham’s Nabil Bentaleb to partner Yebda, and both will be expected to have a rough ride against Belgium’s fancy attackers. Sofiane Feghouli is easily the most recognizable forward, and he will be tasked with supplying striker Islam Slimani. Yacine Brahimi is another youngster to look out.
Belgium attack v Algeria defence
Belgium possess one of the dangerous attacks at this World Cup, probably second only behind Argentina. The likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku have impressed all and sundry, and are expected to pose quite a few questions to defenders. The Algerian defence isn’t the most experienced at this tournament, and the presence of no pure holder in midfield could open them up quite easily. Madjid Bougherra will be tasked with stopping the fluid Belgians, but it will be an extremely difficult one.
Feghouli v Vertonghen
Algeria’s main threat going forward is Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli. The winger’s raw pace, trickery and experience could prove handy against Belgium’s left-back Jan Vertonghen. Vertonghen is a centre-back by trade, and his makeshift role out wide could prove to be more difficult against Feghouli. He would have to time his forays forward, while also keeping one eye on Fehouli all the time.
Belgium are expected to steamroll Algeria, but the Desert Eagles will prove to be more than a handful. A plucky 2-1 win could set Belgium on their way, as Algeria’s overall lack of squad quality could prove to be the big difference.