By TIM FONTENAULT
Picking up where the World Cup left off Monday night, substitutes played the role of heroes in Tuesday’s opening match.
Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens were left on the bench to start the game but came on to score in the second half, helping Belgium overcome an early deficit to defeat Algeria 2-1 in the European side’s first World Cup match since 2002.
Belgium struggled to grab hold of the match, allowing Algeria early chances while never looking threatening themselves. Matters only got worse in the 24th minute, when Jan Vertonghen pulled down Sofiane Feghouli in the box. Feghouli, who scored seven goals for Valencia this year, beat Thibaut Courtois with the spot kick to give Algeria the lead.
The trailing side had an extra spring in its step after halftime, thanks in part to the inclusion of Mertens and Fellaini, who came on at halftime and in the 65th minute respectively. Belgium charged forward and looked close to breaking the African side.
The breakthrough finally came in the 70th minute, when Fellaini headed home a cross from Kevin DeBruyne. Ten minutes later, Mertens grabbed the winner. As Belgium charged down the pitch on the counter attack, Mertens got on the end of a brilliant through ball from Eden Hazard, leaving him with acres of space. Mertens took a couple touches and fired the ball past Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi with no resistance.
Algeria’s only chance to equalize came with a throw-in deep in their attacking third in the 93rd minute. Belgium cleared the chance and Hazard took the ball the length of the field, nearly getting in position for a third goal before the referee blew for full time.