Belo Horizonte and Natal, Reuters—Algeria’s coach conceded his inexperienced team were exposed by a much fitter Belgium on Tuesday but also complained a foul was missed in the run-up to the deciding goal during the Africans’ 2–1 defeat.
Algeria scored their first World Cup goal in 28 years to take a surprise first-half lead against the Group H favorites when playmaker Sofiane Feghouli fired home from the penalty spot.
But their resilience withered in the second half and they let the Europeans take control with Marouane Fellaini scoring a superb header on 70 minutes and Dries Mertens drilling home the winner 10 minutes from time.
“We let them play in the second half,” the Franco–Bosnian Vahid Halilhodžić told reporters. “We should have run a little bit more, we should have dared a bit more. Physically, the Belgium players are much stronger.”
Halilhodžić pinpointed lack of condition as a reason for his side’s late capitulation. “My players were lacking in the second half, some of them were asking to be substituted,” he said.
“The second half showed the difference in experience. They showed freshness, we committed small faults. But there was a lot of quality in our play,” he added.
“I have a number of players that are rather limited; they’re young, they’re not that experienced, they can’t play 90 minutes. Each Algerian player needs to improve his physical condition by 30 to 50 percent. The Belgian players are in much better shape.”
Halilhodžić accused Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez of missing a foul from Kevin De Bruyne on Feghouli prior to Belgium’s second and winning goal.
“There was a tackle from behind on Feghouli and for me it was an obvious foul. This could have changed everything because the second goal would not have been scored,” he said.
“I may be subjective because it’s my team, but I saw a foul. After that, a second goal was scored and that meant a defeat for us and that hurts.”
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots rejected that, however, saying the tackle was “perfectly” executed.
Despite the defeat, Halilhodžić said his team had made Algeria proud and pretty much played to their potential.
“We could have won. We were heroic in the first half. At half-time I was sure we would make it. We’ve missed a major opportunity. But I don’t want to blame anyone. You can say I am the one to be blamed, as usual,” he laughed.
“Belgium is one of the best teams in Europe. My team gave as much as they could in the present time.”
Algeria’s two other group games are against Russia and South Korea, who play each other later on Tuesday.
Frustration for Brazil
In the earlier game on Wednesday World Cup favorites Brazil were held to a 0–0 draw by Mexico on Tuesday as goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced an inspired performance to deny the Brazilians their 11th victory in a row.
In an absorbing Group A match in the deafening cauldron of Fortaleza’s Estádio Castelão, Brazil failed time and again to break down a stubborn Mexican defense.
Ochoa made a series of reflex saves to deny Paulinho, Neymar—twice—and Thiago Silva when they seemed certain to score.
“We should congratulate their goalkeeper who performed at least four miracles,” Brazilian striker Fred said.
At the other end, the Mexicans had a few decent chances in another entertaining game and could have snatched a victory had their long-range efforts been more accurate.
The draw ended Brazil’s 10-match winning streak, dating back to August when they lost to Switzerland in a friendly.
It also meant that to make the second round of the tournament both teams need points from their final group games on June 23 when Brazil face Cameroon in Brasília and Mexico meet Croatia in Recife.
“There was a chance here, a chance there, it was very tight,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said.
“It wasn’t a question of us evolving or not [from the last game]. We’ve been playing this way 20 games, we are up against good teams, we need to understand that.”
“It wasn’t a good result; a victory would have qualified us. We need to respect other teams.”