Looking ahead to today's Group H encounter between highly rated Belgium and Algeria.

Group H

17 June 2014

Belgium v AlgeriaEstadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 17:00

Belgium

It has been well documented that the Belgian FA developed a blueprint for players’ development that included the adoption of a 4-33 formation by the youth teams of club and country. Marc Wilmots however, favours a 4-3-3 that can look like a 4-14-1 with the midfield four interchanging and Alex Witsel fulfilling his disciplined role in front of the back four. And the defence behind him could certainly struggle against the world’s best teams due to the necessity to play centre-backs in the two full-back positions. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghan will start at right and left back respectively, with captain Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen in the centre.

In the qualifiers, the key players were the spine of the team – goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Kompany and Witsel – and their consistency allowed the creative players in midfield to assert their authority. Kevin De Bruyne became the fourth essential player after he was introduced against Serbia in Belgrade. He was a revelation from that game on and his lack of match fitness was a contribution to the team’s poor performances in the post-qualifying friendlies.

Christian Benteke’s injury is a headache for Wilmots as it is questionable whether Romelu Lukaku can play a similar role in holding the ball up to allow team-mates to break through from midfield.

De Bruyne is likely to play on the right of Lukaku, with Eden Hazard on the left of a front three. Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli are the most likely partners alongside Witsel in midfield, with Marouane Fellaini set to start on the bench after a difficult first season at Manchester United.

Plan B?

There could be a switch to4-4-2 but it’s a bit late in the day for such a move.

Wilmots once tried Hazard as a “false nine” but with limited success and questions remain as to why Belgium rarely get the best out of such a promising talent.

In competitive games, Wilmots has hardly ever had to switch to a “Plan B”, but he has so many attacking options in midfield that he could simply change personnel and hope that fresh legs could prove effective.

If he did go 4-4-2, Wilmots could bring Kevin Mirallas into the centre, alongside Lukaku, and leave out Chadli from the midfield quartet.

Algeria

The first thing to realise is that “Coach Vahid” is not one to stick by 11 first-choice individuals. Within his favourite 4-3-2-1 system, players come and go, constantly mixing and matching according to the form of his personnel and what he perceives to be the strength and weaknesses of the opposition.

While the crafty Franco-Bosnian steadfastly maintains that his side is far more attack-conscious than the Algeria team which took part in South Africa 2010, the truth is somewhat different. Throughout his coaching career, prudence, pragmatism, rigour and discipline have formed the core of Halilhodzic’s philosophy. In tough Group H ties against Belgium and Russia, he will
not take risks, looking to contain, counter-attack and make hay from a set-piece.

In order to give his team that maximum security feel, he is likely to deploy two hermetically sealed defensive layers: a traditional back four and a trio of midfield holders, all of whom are comfortable on the ball, but will be under strict instructions to sit deep and plug gaps. The wide attacking midfielders (normally Sofiane Feghouli on the right and the left-sided El Arabi Soudani) exist as the supply line to star striker Islam Slimani, but also are expected to tuck in and do their share of pressing.

Algeria will be dangerous at set-pieces where captain Madjid Bougherra can contribute effectively. But defensively they have proven weak on the flanks and often look rattled under pressure.

The likes of Yacine Brahimi and Ryad Boudebouz are strong options off the bench, but other choices are more limited. Nabil Ghilas has emerged as a possible alternative to Soudani.

Plan B?

Only in Algeria’s second match versus South Korea will the handbrake be released. This could mean a switch to a 4-2-3-1 - with one of the midfield holders (possibly Yebda or Taider) moving forward into a no 10 slot – or a 4-3-3, with Feghouli and Soudani operating as out-and-out wingers.

When the Algerians have to chase a
game and up the tempo, Halilhodzic often throws attacking midfielder Yacine Brahimi into the mix and should he require extra firepower, may turn to Ishak Belfodil, who despite being too much of a maverick for the coach’s liking, does possess a hint of goalgetting X factor.