|Stadium||Estádio do Maracanã|
Daniel Van Buyten
Kevin De Bruyne
El Arbi Hillel Soudani
Until Marc Wilmots made the changes that produced two quite brilliant goals in the final 20 minutes, Belgium were in danger of turning into England of the more recent past here on Tuesday. A 'golden generation' of talent, a squad seemingly overflowing with big-money individuals, that comes together for the national team to play stuttering, stagnant football.
They were dreadful, a goal down and playing nothing like as well as they should have been given the players they have at their disposal; the third most expensive squad in the competition behind Brazil and Spain based purely on transfer fees.
The England players to which one refers might wish to point to the fact that, as awful as they were against Algeria four years ago, they did at least stop them scoring in one of the most mind-numbing, goalless and utterly soulless encounters in World Cup history.
It was thanks to England, not to mention one or two other teams, that Algeria came into this tournament having not celebrated a World Cup goal since scoring against Northern Ireland in Mexico in 1986.
But thanks to Belgium, and in particular to Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen, that run came to a sudden and dramatic end when Faouzi Ghoulam converted his 25th minute penalty here at the Estadio Mineirao and celebrated like he had just won the entire tournament.
In fairness to the Valencia forward, whose perfectly timed run panicked Vertonghen into committing the foul in the first place, he had just scored a goal that threatened to secure the biggest shock of the competition so far. A victory against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
In the end it was not to be, Wilmots making the changes – with Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens among them – that produced the response the Belgium manager desired. A 70th minutes equaliser from Fellaini and a marvellously executed goal, courtesy of Eden Hazard's perfect delivery for Mertens 10 minutes later.
Perhaps it was to be expected. Perhaps we should remember that, Daniel Van Buyten aside, these Belgian players had never been to a World Cup before.
But they certainly made life difficult for themselves even if Wilmots claimed beforehand that, having studied videos of their last 10 games, he knew everything there was to know about Algeria.
The highest-ranked team in Africa certainly started positively against a Belgium team burdened by a degree of expectation and a lack of experience on this stage.
Belgians have long been of the view that this group can emulate the side that reached the semi-finals in 1986. Why they thought they could prove themselves fast learners and progress comfortably from a group that also includes Fabio Capello's Russia.
Before long Belgium did appear to be in command, dominating possession but finding life a little frustrating against opponents defending very deep. Eventually Axel Witsel unleashed a blistering effort from distance that Rais Mbolhi could only parry.
It made the penalty they conceded all the more frustrating for Belgium; to have that much of the ball but find themselves a goal down after 23 minutes.
There was no question of it not being a penalty, Vertonghen allowing himself to get caught by the run of Feghouli in pursuit of a teasing Faouzi Ghoulam cross and committing the foul – a foolish foul – in desperation. It amounted to a dreadful piece of defending, with Kompany certainly wasting no time in expressing his disappointment to his colleague.
Feghouli's successful conversion not only ended that long wait for an Algerian World Cup goal but put the Belgians under enormous pressure.
Witsel tested Mbolhi again, while Vertonghen endeavoured to make amends for his mistake with a free-kick that whistled over the Algeria crossbar.
Hazard had endured a difficult first half, too, but he did burst clear at one stage and so nearly present Lukaku with the simplest of opportunities to equalise. As it was, Hazard's delivery just eluded him.
Armed with a clipboard, Wilmots seemed ready to make changes at half-time. He certainly needed to. For all their possession – 66 per cent in that opening 45 minutes – they were alarmingly short of ideas, with Lukaku a lumbering, ineffective presence at the pinnacle of their attack.
Nacer Chadli was also among those who disappointed and a player already reflecting on a poor season for Tottenham – he was one of four Spurs players to start this contest – was hooked during the interval, Mertens stepping off the bench to replace him.
Lukaku would not remain on the pitch much longer, losing his place to the relatively inexperienced Divock Origi. Wilmots when then make a further change, sending on Fellaini.
While Wilmots would have been alarmed to see Carl Medjani so nearly score a second for Algeria, the introduction of Origi almost paid off when he accelerated into the box only to see Mbolhi block his effort with his legs.
In the end the breakthrough for Belgium came from a Kevin De Bruyne cross that Fellaini rose impressively to meet with a header that crashed home via the underside of the crossbar.
It would be De Bruyne who then made the crucial interception to spark the next attack, with Hazard then bursting down the left flank before crossing into the path of the advancing Mertens. A moment of joy mixed with relief, and proof that, for all the disappointment of that first half, they have already gone one better than the England of four years ago.