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Jun 16, 2014

Belgium vs. Algeria: 50-50 Challenge

BelgiumBelgium
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Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as Belgium take on Algeria in Group H, Wim Van Walle (Belgium) and Maher Mezahi (Algeria) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Wim Van Walle: There isn't much football history between Belgium and Algeria -- the countries have met twice in friendlies, with a scoreless draw in Brussels in 2002 and a 3-1 win for Belgium in Algeria a year later. For the Red Devils, it is important to start the tournament with a firm win. Belgium have never won their group in the first round of a World Cup, but this time round, they are clear favourites in Group H. It is imperative they get off to a good start against Algeria, who are seen as the weakest team in the group.

Maher Mezahi: In Algeria, this first match is perceived to be the most important of the group stage. A win or tie against Belgium could set the pace for a good run in Brazil. Belgium are the favourites in Group H, so nipping a point (or three!) will not only give Algeria the perfect head start but it would also pressure the Red Devils to get results out of their subsequent two matches. A beneficial result is, therefore, vital on Tuesday evening.

X factor

VW: Kevin De Bruyne is likely to play an important part in this game. At only 23, he has become untouchable for Belgium. He always plays when fit and played a crucial role in most of Belgium's goals in qualifying. Algeria are expected to sit back and keep play as tight as they can, so De Bruyne's excellent technique and passing skills will be key to unlocking Algeria's defence. With Eden Hazard and probably Kevin Mirallas on either side, De Bruyne will be looked at to feed balls to Romelu Lukaku up front, but expect him to take a shot himself, whenever possible.

MM: El Arbi Hillel Soudani is expected to lead Algeria's attacking line in isolation -- a mammoth task. Soudani has been preferred to Islam Slimani because his game is more conducive to a counterattacking style of play. He is dynamic and has superior link up play and a useful ability to win free kicks in the attacking third.

Playing against Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen will be extremely difficult, but if Soudani can fulfill his duties and capitalize on the few chances that might come his way, he might single-handedly fire Algeria to their first victory in a World Cup since 1982.

Fear factor

VW: Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli is probably Algeria's biggest star in football. Born in France, he played for Les Bleus at youth level before choosing to play for Algeria in 2011. Feghouli usually plays on the right wing but often moves to a more central attacking position. He is Algeria's main creative force and makes goals rather than scoring them, even if he has five for Algeria to his name.

MM: If Kevin Mirallas starts, I think he could trouble the Algerian defence. Hazard, De Bruyne and Dries Mertens are attacking midfielders, and they tend to play in front of the defensive line. Mirallas is different in the sense that he has an innate striker's instinct. The Everton man's athleticism, forward-thinking and sharp movement might make him the most threatening player Belgium could field against an Algerian defence struggling for pace.

Key battle

VW: Following from the previous topic, the main battle might well be Jan Vertonghen, Belgium's left-back, against Feghouli. Vertonghen prefers to play as a central defender but has played as left-back for most of his professional career, for both club and country. He will have his work cut out against Feghouli, and it will be important for Vertonghen to keep a cool head. In Belgium's tempered friendly against Tunisia, he was seen kicking out at Issam Jemaa after a strong challenge from the latter. It was the sort of foul that would have seen Vertonghen sent off had it been in a World Cup match.

MM: Because Belgium play centre-halves as full-backs they might struggle to attack from the flanks. Algeria have worked on getting their wingers to double back defensively and overload opponents in wide areas, thereby snuffing out any breathing space for the likes of Hazard or Mertens to operate in.

That means Marc Wilmots' men will have to attack through the middle, which is where the key battle should take place. De Bruyne is expected to play behind Lukaku, and if Algeria are to have any success, Carl Medjani will have to muzzle the Wolfsburg star. Medjani is a centre-half deputizing in midfield, so he will win aerial duels but might struggle with the artistic touches of a player such as De Bruyne.

Prediction

VW:There is some pressure on Belgium's young squad. The lack of tournament experience might be a factor, but they should have too much quality for Algeria to form a real threat. I predict Belgium will win. If they can get an early goal, they can do so by some margin, but being Belgian, I will go for a cautious 2-1 win.

MM: Algeria have had 10 days to prepare for this one match as a Cup final. Preparations have gone swimmingly, and a clear game plan is in place. I think a cheeky 1-1 is in the cards in Belo Horizonte.

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