Two second half goals by the Belgium substitutes retrieved a situation against Algeria which had them looking like Tottenham in disguise.
Belgium opened with a patient passing game, similar to that preferred by Andre Villas-Boas in the first half of last season. With the slow build up by Belgium, Algeria sat deep to deny them space in which to play.
The Belgian team included the three Tottenam players – Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli. With an abundance of central defenders Belgium started with four of them across their back line. Vertonghen was at left back, his usual position in international football but the one he doesn’t like to play for Tottenham. Dembele and Chadli were in central midfield for the team of which much is expected in this World Cup.Nabil Bentaleb was in midfield for the hard-working and disciplined Algeria team who were looking to counter-attack but rarely troubled their more experienced opponents.
Right at the start Andy Townsend asked the question, all Spurs fans have been asking over the past two seasons, “What is Dembele’s best position?” Only in occasional bursts does one see the power and strength that one expects of a talented player like Dembele.
Vertonghen was comfortable at left back without being tested but as I wrote this comment he was caught out after 23 minutes when Algeria broke and delivered a cross from the left. As Sofiane Feghouli broke into the area, Vertonghen was slow to react and pulled back the Algeria midfield player to concede a penalty for which he received a yellow card. Feghouli stepped to score the penalty himself.
Chadli tryied to get into the area to support their lone striker, Romelu Lukaku, but with no reward. In attempting to make amends for his earlier error Vertonghen created a shooting chance for Dembele but it went wide. He then stepped up to take control at a free-kick for a foul in a central position but his shot was much too high.
Next to try his luck from distance was Chadli who shot over just before the interval and was replaced at half-time in a display that made them look like Tottenham in disguise.
In the second half, Algeria sat even deeper to protect their lead and comfortably frustrated Belgium. With 64 minutes played Dembele was replaced and in the next Belgium attack, Vertonghen shot powerfully but wide.
Nabil Bentaleb did what he does best working hard and covering a lot of ground up and down the pitch. He was booked in the first half for a challenge on his Tottenham team-mate, Dembele, when he caught him with a forearm on the neck. It appeared to be in retaliation for an earlier challenge by the Belgian – no love lost there.
Five minutes after coming on for Dembele, Fellaini got his head to a cross from the left and beat the goalkeeper from 12 yards. Belgium started to play with much more confidence and ten minutes on went ahead when Mertens who had replaced Chadli scored their second with a shot from the right side of the area.
The win against Algeria was a relief for Belgium and for Jan Vertonghen. Belgium were much better in the second half after Chadli and Dembele were replaced with their two substitutes scoring the late goals.