Minas Gerais, Brazil (4E Sports) – Substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens scored in the second half to carry dark horse Belgium to a 2-1 triumph over Algeria in their World Cup Group H opener Tuesday at Estadio Governador Magalhaes Pinto.
Belgium, which missed the past two global showpieces, was caught flat-footed as Sofiane Feghouli gave Algeria a surprise 25th-minute lead via a penalty kick.
The 24-year-old was hauled down by Jan Vertonghen as they stretched for a left-wing cross and Feghouli punished him by sending Thibaut Courtois the wrong way with his spot-kick.
After being left stunned by Feghouli’s first-half penalty, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots made two tactical changes that paid dividends when he introduced Fellaini and Mertens at the break.
Belgium applied plenty of pressure and eventually got itself back in the game as Fellaini levelled with a perfectly-placed header in the 70th minute.
Victory was assured with 10 minutes to play when Mertens capped a flowing move, the Napoli midfielder lashing the ball past Rais M’Bolhi.
Bereft of early scoring chances, it was a cautious start for both sides, with Belgium dominating possession and Algeria restricted to breaks on the counter attack.
M’Bolhi was the first to be forced to make a save in the 21st minute as Belgian playmaker Axel Witsel unleashed a powerful strike from 20 yards, but the goalkeeper was up to the task and made a perfect stop.
Three minutes later, Algeria were gifted the lead as Faouzi Ghoulam raced down the left-hand side unopposed and delivered a perfect cross to the back post that Feghouli looked to get onto.
However, Vertonghen pulled him back inside the penalty area as the Valencia winger stretched to reach the ball.
Referee Marco Rodriguez had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, with the Tottenham defender booked for his crude tackle. Feghouli duly rolled the ball calmly into the back of the net.