Belgium were never expected to stroll their first match in the World Cup since 2002, but even so, they were pushed all the way by a disciplined Algerian outfit. Throughout the game it became evident that Belgium's lack of natural full-backs was hindering the team, with centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld deployed either side of Daniel van Buyten and Vincent Kompany.
Belgium can call upon a fantastic amount of strength in depth in every other part of the pitch, with Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini, Dries Mertens, Tomas Vermaelen and Kevin Mirallas not able to start the first group game, but unfortunately for Marc Wilmots, options at full-back are sparse.
Wilmot's squad contains only one natural full-back, Anthony Vanden Borre, although both Vertonghen and Alderweireld have been used in the position at various times this season, at Tottenham and Atlético respectively. Sébastien Pocognoli, a natural left-back, paid the price for a decidedly average season at Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga, whilst Guillaume Gillet, a right-back from Anderlecht, had a solid season, but was not seen as a better option than Alderweireld.
The lack of full-backs essentially stifles Belgium's creativity, especially if Wilmots decides to start with Kevin De Bruyne on the right of midfield again. Whilst Vertonghen and Alderweireld are both technical defenders, their first thought on receiving the ball out wide is to play it back inside. The issue is compounded when Belgium's wide midfielders cut inside, crowding the midfield and compacting the space.
Belgium's first goal was a prime example of how useful a natural full-back would be in this team. An overlapping run would allow for De Bruyne, or whoever finds themselves in an inside-forward position, to cross for the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Fellaini and Divock Origi. This didn't happen enough in the game, hence why it took so long for Belgium to break an average Algerian side down.
This major lack of balance will hinder Belgium as the competition progresses, and they face better defences, who are able to crowd out Hazard and Dembele. For now, Belgium's plethora of attacking talent should see them past South Korea, although Fabio Capello's Russian side will be an intriguing battle, especially as the team that goes through in second place will likely be facing Germany.
With nerves settled, and Belgium's first win of the tournament under their belt, Wilmots' side should improve, but there is not getting away from the fact their squad is light out wide, and this vulnerability could be the deciding factor in the "dark-horses" not fulfilling their potential.
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