Instead of the consisted pressure in the opponents’ half, the Europeans held the key to unlock their way to victory. All they needed to do is to create space behind the Africans’ defence and go wide around the wings for crosses. This could easily be achieved by playing the ball in their own half and invite Algeria to move out of their good defending positions and then go around the defence. Algeria depended on counter attacks.
Winning the ball around the centre circle, they placed a pass in the left pocket and delivered a pinpoint cross by Ghoulam that eluded the two central defenders and bounced in the penalty box. Vertonghen tracked Feghouli’s run on the far post and bungled the Algerian from the back. The referee awarded a penalty kick and yellow carded the Belgian. The Algerian rose, dusted himself and calmly beat the giant Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois who dived the wrong way.
The second half saw the Algerians alter their tactics to suit the Belgian football. They moved their engagement line a little up field, opening a reasonable gap between the goalkeeper and the defence. The Europeans did not make much use of the space, though they seemed to find their mojo as their rhythm became more fluid. That window of opportunity vanished for a moment as they failed to recognise and use the possible fatal tactical weakness.
Algeria could have regrouped and retained their compactness reducing spaces between the defenders and between each unit (defence, midfield and attack). The contraction could frustrate the Belgians even more as they resorted to committing fouls and playing long balls from midfield down the flanks. One such long ball got to a crossing position and Manchester United’s Fellaini met the cross with precision to beat Rais M’Bolhi for the equaliser.
Until then, M’Bolhi, the Algerian goalkeeper had many shot-stopping sessions, only efficiently dealing with a real threat from substitute Divock Origi. After the equaliser, the Algerian orientation was out of the window. They panicked and opened more spaces at the back and became extremely vulnerable.
To their detriment, they lost possession in the attacking area hoping for a free kick. Hazard raced half the pitch and picked the intelligent run of Mertens on the right in a three versus two situation. The substitute met and controlled the ball and finished with a ferocious shot to the roof of the net. Thenceforth, Algeria had fewer men behind the ball while Belgium found all the gaps to play the ball and run into.
After all the first time trouble, it became all so easy in the end for the star-studded Belgium side that fielded Dembele, Vertonghen, Lukaku, Kompany, Chadli, Witsel, and still had the luxury of Origi, Januzaj. Mignolet and Fellaini among many on the bench. It must be said that the Algerians had control of the match but threw it away.