Sports

Belgium tops Algeria, 2-1, as backups continue to rule at World Cup

Substitutes help Belgium rally past Algeria, continuing a World Cup trend started by U.S. vs. Ghana

One substitute enters the match at halftime, another midway through the second period. Both execute a dramatic, pivotal play that rescues their team in a 2-1 World Cup win.

Notice a trend here? The same plot that defined the U.S. victory over Ghana on Monday was repeated 18 hours later with Belgium against Algeria. Dries Mertens, playing the role of the Americans' John Brooks, was inserted at the break, then Marouane Felliani, reprising the part of Graham Zusi, soon after.

There was one difference on how the stories played out. Zusi and Brooks collaborated on the same goal, a tie-breaker in the 86th minute. For Belgium, Felliani tallied with 70 minutes expired, just five after taking the field, on a header off his nouveau-Afro. Then, with 10 minutes left, Mertens was unmarked on a fast break when he controlled a pass and converted it with ease.

The media has attached a one-word modifier to this team so that its warmups should read "Darkhorse Belgium." (Why the term "darkhorse" applies to what is considered the fifth-best team out of 32 is a mystery.)

The point was, Belgium hovers just below the big four of Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Spain, and a roster stacked with standouts from the Premier League warrants its inclusion in the title discussion.

The Belgians made it tough on themselves, scatter-shooting wide of the net while granting a penalty kick goal to Algeria. Eventually, their 2-to-1 time advantage with the ball paid off, and two of their 17 shots found the target, both by reserve players.

If the pattern continues, a subtitle will be fitting for this tournament: The Backups Cup.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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