BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL – Waiting and waiting for an equalizer, the tension started showing on the faces of the Belgium players as the second half wore on in the country’s first World Cup match in 12 years.
Algeria was on the verge of a major upset in their Group H opener Tuesday, taking the lead through a penalty in the 25th minute. Try as they might, Belgium’s attacking players just couldn’t break down Algeria’s defense.
In the end, it was the Belgian bench which found the way, with substitutes scoring twice for a 2-1 comeback win.
“We tired them. We just tired them down,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. “I told them, ‘Don’t worry, we will score.’ ”
Algeria’s surprising lead stood for 45 minutes until Marouane Fellaini’s strong glancing header, with his back to goal, from a Kevin De Bruyne cross in the 70th.
Fellaini, who many had considered would start the match, had only come onto the pitch five minutes earlier and was Wilmots’ final substitution.
Dries Mertens’ right-foot strike beat Algeria’s goalkeeper in the 80th after Eden Hazard saw him free on the right and set him up for the decider. Mertens, who went on at the start of the second half, sent his shot high in the net outside of Rais Mbolhi’s reach.
“We knew it would be tough, that there would be no space,” Wilmots said. “We made one error and we paid for it. The bench made the difference. We showed mental strength and we came back.”