BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — All too often, it sounds phony when World Cup coaches say all 23 players in the squad are equally important. On Tuesday, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots made it ring true.
From the start against Algeria, Wilmots said the plan was to wear out the opposition with possession play and then bring in fresh substitutes to pounce. Instead of just an 11-man starting lineup, he was counting on the bench from the opening whistle.
One substitute, Marouane Fellaini, used bulk and power to head home an equalizer to cancel out an early penalty and another, Dries Mertens, finished off a counter in the 80th minute to confirm Belgium as favorite in Group H with a 2-1 win.
"I always said that the bench will make the difference and we showed it again today," said Fellaini, who turned from a benchwarmer by necessity at Manchester United to a substitute by design for Belgium.
His 70th-minute glancing, backward header finally brought the favored Belgians back into the game after a plodding first half.
At halftime Wilmots had already brought on Mertens for more depth on the right wing. Even after he provided the winner, he also showed the bench is not necessarily a happy place to be.
"It was the choice of the trainer. A tough choice. But I was happy to come on," Mertens said. He was able to use his speed ever more effectively against the rapidly tiring Algerians and he finished off a quick counterattack with a fiery right-foot drive for the clincher.
If he had started, he might not have had such an impact.
Wilmots is in a good position, however, as few coaches have those kinds of options. While most teams struggle to fill their starting lineup with top class players, he can leave many on the bench.
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