Despite their status as a "dark horse" favorite in the minds of fans around the world, Belgium got their World Cup campaign off to a rocky start against Algeria. They looked stagnant, disjointed, and just plain boring, which was wildly different from the exciting, lively football they had shown during their impressive qualifying run.
With most of their attackers just kind of standing around in the final third rather than looking to make penetrating runs and force their own cracks in to the opposing defense, it was little wonder that they couldn't break down a well-organized Algeria side. A lot of their attempts to create went through Kevin De Bruyne in the first half, who was shut down by Napoli's Faouzi Ghoulam. Joining De Bruyne on the "ineffective" list was Nacer Chadli, inexplicably started over Ghoulam's club teammate, Dries Mertens.
Wilmots finally seemed to realize his error at halftime, when Mertens replaced Chadli. He made an immediate impact by adding a biting edge to Belgium's attack they'd lacked. De Bruyne moved centrally, where he's better, as well as deeper once Marouane Fellaini eventually came on. While Fellaini scored the equalizer, it was the aggressive runs at and behind the defense of Mertens and fellow sub Origi that started to break down and put cracks in to Algeria's defense.
A fantastic run from Origi set up Fellaini's equalizer in the 70th minute, and ten minutes later it was Dries Mertens, our dear little Belgian friend, making a mind-bending run that ended with a sublime finish to put Belgium ahead, a lead they would hold for the rest of the match. The sheer raw emotion running through Mertens in that moment was palpable, as he was almost in tears as he embraced Fellaini near the goal.
It was a massive moment for Mertens and for his country. That's the kind of moment that will forever stand out in his career, the one that no matter what else happens he'll point at in the future and say "That was me. I did that. That was awesome."
Well in, Dries. Now go bag some more goals, and drag Belgium to the knockout rounds and then some.