June 18, 2014

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) There is a new bounce in the step of Marouane Fellaini at the World Cup after a bad year at Manchester United. And if all things go Belgium's way, the bounce in his curly hairdo might be gone in a month.

Yes, Fellaini is still on the bench when the match starts, but that's where any comparison with his Premier League seasons ends.

Coming on halfway through the second half against Algeria, the hulking Fellaini reinvigorated Belgium and set in motion a 2-1 come-from-behind win with a backward header glancing off his wild, curly black locks.

If Belgium keeps winning through the July 13 final, those hairs will all be gone.

''I cut it if we win,'' he said.

Belgium leads Group H and a victory over Russia on Sunday at Rio's Maracana would assure it a place in the second round.

For Fellaini, it offers a positive ending to a disappointing season. He was the only major transfer that David Moyes brought with him from Everton last year. Yet, it never clicked at United - for both. Moyes was fired late in the season and the future of Fellaini under new coach Louis van Gaal is unclear.

''I am the same player as I am at United,'' Fellaini said Wednesday. Yet, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots can get the best out of him.

Like so often in the sport, it is tough to put a finger on what makes the difference. Sure, Fellaini had an injured wrist that needed surgery through a critical stage of the season, and then could not rescue his team from being sucked down into a vortex.

But when he's with those other Red Devils - the Belgian national team - everything suddenly turns positive.

Fellaini often thrives on mood and intensity, since what he lacks in pure football skills he makes up for in attitude and brawn.

And in Belgium, the mood is right, having gone from an underachieving team two years ago to one of the main outsiders to lift the World Cup.

When life was still looking better, Fellaini once said he would shave his head if he won the Champions League. Now he can do it in Brazil.

''If we win the World Cup, OK,'' he told RTBF network.

In Brazil, Wilmots used him as a bludgeon after his team has softened up and tired down the Algerians for the first 65 minutes.

''With his power and his talents. It was perfect,'' Wilmots said.

As effective as he was as a substitute, it is not a position Fellaini embraces, even though he can grudgingly live with it.

''I accept the choice of the coach. Twenty-three want to play. We want to go through. That is the most important,'' Fellaini said.


Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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