For about the first hour, Belgium resembled one of those Chelsea specials we all know and love so well. You know, the ones featuring uninspired, slow passing, much standing about, and hopeful long shots.
And then Marouane Fellaini, of all people, came on and changed the game. Certainly unexpected after a disappointing season at Manchester United, though in fairness, he was deployed in a more advanced role where his height, hair, and strength gave Algeria all sorts of problems. It helped that he replaced a Spurs player since Tottenham's Belgian trio engaged in heated competition to one-up each other's poor performances. Jan Vertonghen gave away a stupid penalty, Nacer Chadli was entirely useless and was replaced at half time, while Moussa Dembelele failed to influence the game beyond several fouls and plenty of safe passing. But the trio we're more concerned about is the Chelsea trio of Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, and Eden Hazard, all of whom were included in Marc Wilmots' starting lineup.
Courtois hardly broke a sweat as Algeria took just three shots and got only one of them on target: the aforementioned penalty, which was dispatched with Hazard-cool by Sofiane Feghouli. As ESPN's Derek Rae joked, Belgium could've had Jean Claude Van Damme playing in goal at this rate. Still, good job, Thibaut.
The same can't be said for Romelu Lukaku, who got the hook in the 58th minute in favor of 19-year-old Divock Origi. Now, certainly, Lukaku's showing was not helped at all by the rest of his sleep-walking teammates, but there was a distinct lack of effort, lack of awareness, lack of shots, and lack of touch (though plenty of turnovers) on gross display today. From a player who boldly declared himself a "complete striker" just a few days ago, this was shockingly poor. Origi missed a decent chance and didn't touch the ball more than a handful of times, yet he still exerted a greater positive influence on proceedings. It would not be surprising to see him start Belgium's next game.
On a happier note, there was Eden Hazard. Like the rest of his teammates, he was mostly anonymous for the first hour -- though he did spark a couple attacks toward the end of the first half -- but came alive when it truly mattered. After Fellaini's header from Kevin De Bruyne's cross leveled the scores, Hazard did one of those Hazard things that make you weak in the knees and overjoyed that he's wearing Chelsea Blue for nine months of the year.
De Bruyne started it by winning possession with a slide tackle. The ball broke to Hazard, whose turn in the center circle was similar to the one with which he introduced himself to the Premier League in assisting Branislav Ivanovic's goal against Wigan at the start of the 2012/13 season. To do it justice, it must be seen; sadly, none of the GIFs or Vines of that goal include the turn. But trust me, it was glorious. Belgium's and now Chelsea's #10 then carried the ball up to the top of the box, laid it perfectly across to the unrushing Dries Mertens, who made no mistake. Game, set, match.
Hazard later trolled the Algeria right back with a backheel to win a throw-in, and weaved his way past a couple before being harshly adjudged to have carried the ball over the end-line. He collected five more fouls (and about as many went uncalled) and showed willingness to take-on his man, though once again without producing a single shot attempt. It was by no means a banner day for Hazard, but for the last 30 minutes, when he finally showed up, he was excellent.
So a winning start for most everyone's second favorite team. But up next for Belgium will be Russia, and safe to say, they will have to put in a bit more effort.