Tuesday’s Noon ET/9am PT kick-off pits European dark horses Belgium against north African underdogs Algeria in both team’s respective group H opener in Belo Horizonte. Unlike many of the other World Cup venues, Belo Horizonte does not provide challenges in climate, and temperatures are supposed to be a comfortable 70F at kickoff.
Both teams will be looking to get off to a strong start with matches against Russia and South Korea to follow. Belgium, who are being touted by many as a potential surprise team with the ability to go deep into the competition, will find it nearly compulsory to take maximum points as they look to try and avoid a potential round of sixteen clash with Germany of group G. Algeria, on the other hand, will be trying to get their campaign off on the right foot and try and steal a point against the favorites in Group H.
Belgium are a young team with many young players who have found considerable success at club level, and are in the midst of what is being described of a “golden generation.” Such players include Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois of Atletico Madrid and Axel Witsel of Zenit St. Petersburg. They enter the tournament on a bit of a high, having won their three warmup games against Luxembourg, Sweden and Tunisia. However, they have not qualified for a major championship since the 2002 World Cup, when they were eliminated 2-0 by eventual winners Brazil in the round of 16.
Algeria, on the other hand, are favored to finish bottom of this group. Led by 19 year old Nabil Bentaleb of Tottenham and 34 year old Madjid Bougherra, formerly of Rangers, the Algerians feature a somewhat youthful side that contains many dual French nationals, many of whom ply their trade in France’s Ligue Un. Algeria have never advanced from the group stage of the World Cup, bowing out in 1982 (because of final match collusion between West Germany and Austria that saw both teams through), 1986 and 2010. However, they were able to steal a point from England in a 0-0 in the second group stage match in 2010, and will look to do the same against a strong Belgian side. Like Belgium, Algeria also come into the tournament in fine form, having won their last four matches against Burkina Faso, Slovenia, Armenia and Romania.
While this match may be overlooked by many in favor of the Brazil-Mexico match later on in the day, there are some intriguing story-lines to look out for here, most notably whether or not all the Belgian talent can come together for the national side in a major tournament, or will they cave under the pressure of their first major tournament appearance in twelve years. Algeria won’t be content to play second fiddle, so look out for a highly entertaining match in the Brazilian mountainside.