Super sub Fellaini saves the day for bumbling Belgians
After a much-maligned debut season with Manchester United, Marouane Fellaini really has gone from Red Devil to angel in the space of a few weeks, despite his national side Belgium sharing the same nickname.
There was so much hype about this ‘Golden Generation’ of players before the World Cup, but a nervy first half saw Group H outsiders Algeria threaten to cause an upset.
Fellaini began the game from the bench, but it was he and Dries Mertens – also a substitute, at half time to replace the ineffective Nacer Chadli – who got the crucial goals to win, coming from behind.
Marc Wilmots’ men started well, playing patient possession football, with Chelsea star Eden Hazard out wide on the left, and Kevin de Bruyne and Chadli rotating in the centre and right, behind Romelu Lukaku.
The match began with nothing more than a shanked effort from Leicester City forward Riyad Mahrez of Algeria, before a long-ranged effort at the other end from midfielder Axel Witsel tested but didn’t trouble keeper Rais M’Bolhi.
However, minutes later, Jan Vertonghen, who is usually so reliable for club Tottenham, playing in his unflavoured left back position, held back Sofiane Feghouli in the area, resulting in a penalty. The Valencia winger then stood pass the ball from the spot into the back of the net, sending goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois the wrong way.
Despite the goal coming mid-way into the first half, the Desert Warriors managed to keep enemy shots to a minimum. Wayward efforts out the area from De Bruyne and Vertonghen freekicks, another Witsel shot and a tame close-ranged scuff from Chadli were the only chances before the end of the first period.
The half time substitution of Mertens for Spurs flop Chadli certainly changed Belgium’s dynamism, although without much success at first. The introduction of teenager Divock Origi in place of Lukaku also spiced things up, but the crucial moment, although not many would have expected at the time, was the appearance of Fellaini – on for Mousa Dembele.
Despite scoring no goals in all competition for United this season, six minutes after coming on (70th) he rose fantastically to meet a De Bruyne cross from deep left to head home off the bar.
Momentum and confidence was firmly with the Red Devils after that and, 10 minutes later, a brilliant run and pass from Hazard produced a sweet finish from Mertens to seal victory.
Fellaini also came close to nodding in a second, but his effort was tipped over the bar this time.
For Belgium, while they might be able to get away with a slow start against the likes of their other group opponents Russia and South Korea, if they are to live up to expectations and go far in this tournament, they will need to be more assured.
They have still yet to use Man Utd wonderkid Adnan Januzaj, or see the talent that many of these players have showcased in the Premier League. Next up for them is Russia, where they are 21/10 favourites for victory.