World Cup Previews – Group H

Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

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The Perception

Another fairly evenly matched group, but Belgium are favourites to progress. Any of the other three teams could join them, but no one wants Russia to do so.

Fixtures

17 June 2014

Belgium v Algeria, Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 17:00 (ITV)

17 June 2014

Russia v South Korea, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, 23:00 (BBC)

22 June 2014

Belgium v Russia, Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 17:00 (BBC)

22 June 2014

South Korea v Algeria, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 20:00 (ITV)

26 June 2014

South Korea v Belgium, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 21:00 (ITV)

26 June 2014

Algeria v Russia, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 21:00 (ITV)

Belgium

7577-belgium-national-football-team

  • World Ranking: 12 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Fourth (1986)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 12 (first in 1930)
  • Manager: Marc Wilmots
  • Captain: Vincent Kompany

Star Man – Eden Hazard

Belgium v France - International Friendly

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is vital to Belgium’s hopes. Given licence to roam, the 23 year old plays across the final attacking third trying to open up the opposition with his intricate play. His clever runs can leave space for the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Kevin Mirallas and Dries Mertens. Last season Hazard scored 14 goals and assisted seven for Chelsea in the Premier League, but has only just hit his stride for the national side after his attitude was questioned by previous coaches. Should he replicate his club form, he’ll have the biggest say in how far Belgium go.

One to Watch – Thibaut Courtois

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The Chelsea loanee has solidified his reputation as Europe’s finest young goalkeeper with Atletico Madrid this year, his superb form between the sticks contributing hugely to their La Liga win and Champions League final appearance. His vast array of saves could be called upon in the latter stages – and could prove crucial for Belgium’s chances. The question as to whether he will return to Stamford Bridge after the tournament, could depend on how much he impresses Jose Mourinho in Brazil.

How they qualified

In emphatic fashion, registering a national record seven successive qualifying wins during an unbeaten campaign. Only Spain conceded fewer goals in European qualifying, whilst only Germany and Holland bettered Belgium’s eight wins on the way to Brazil.

Prediction – Round of 16

Marc Wilmots’s side are expected to leave a lasting impact on Brazil, but in my opinion, an ‘easy’ group could give them a false sense of security, as they’ll likely run into Germany or Brazil in the Round of 16 and suddenly find themselves in trouble and leave South America earlier than both they, and everybody else expects them to.

Algeria

Algerian national football team

  • World Ranking: 25 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Group Stage (1982, 1986, 2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 4 (first in 1982)
  • Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic
  • Captain: Madjid Bougherra

Star Man – Sofiane Feghouli

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France-born Sofiane Feghouli, 24, is an attacking midfielder or winger for Valencia who was described by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger a year ago as “exceptional” and “a physical beast”. He was named in a preliminary French senior squad for a friendly with Uruguay in 2008, aged 18, but switched allegiance in October 2011 and has since played 19 games for Algeria and scored five goals. Very comfortable in possession, he tends to see things that crucial split second before anyone else and seems to enjoy playing a pivotal role for the North African nation.

One to Watch – Madjid Bougherra

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Retiring skipper Madjid Bougherra, formerly of Rangers, brings his decade-long international career to an end after the World Cup. He pre-dates any of his team-mates in Brazil by over two years, providing dogged defensive determination to Algeria’s backline, as England found out in their goalless draw at the World Cup four years ago. The 31 year old still plays a pivotal role in Vahid Halilhodzic’s side and his experience will be crucial to help guide his untested teammates.

How they qualified

Algeria were the last African qualifiers, beating Cup of Nations finalists Burkina Faso 1-0 in the second leg of their play-off to advance on away goals after a 3-2 first-leg defeat. They won all but one game in the previous group stage.

Prediction – Group Stages

The Algerians are probably a stronger team than they were four years ago, when they managed to take a point off England, so have every chance of qualifying this time around in an easier group. Or so it seems. Yes, their group is easier, but Algeria are still the worst team in it.

Russia

russia-national-soccer-team

  • World Ranking: 18  (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Group Stage (1994, 2002)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 3 (first in 1994)
  • Manager: Fabio Capello
  • Captain: Sergei Ignashevich

Star Man – Aleksandr Kerzhakov

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His country’s most prolific goalscorer ever with over 200 now in competitive matches, Kerzhakov also has 25 in 81 internationals so could surpass Vladimir Beschastnykh’s record total for Russia this summer. On his day, the 31 year old can mesmerise the best defences, but has to remain patient if Russia find themselves on the back foot. The Zenit St. Petersburg striker certainly isn’t getting any younger, and is always looking be involved. He is one of the few Russian players with World Cup experience – he played the final eight minutes against Belgium in 2002 as Russia was knocked out. Current Belgium manager Marc Wilmots was the man of the match in that game.

One to Watch – Aleksandr Kokorin

Soccer Euro 2012 Russia Czech Republic

This 23-year-old is leading a new generation in Russian football. He’s media-friendly, playful and accessible – but above all, he’s a huge talent. Anzhi certainly thought so, paying his £19 million release clause but selling him straight back to Dynamo Moscow before he could play a first-team game. Kokorin, as his way, took it all in his stride. Quick, intelligent and nimble, he has become a composed finisher in recent seasons, and is improving the aerial side of his game too. He scored some important goals in qualifying to help get Russia to Brazil (four in seven starts overall). It seems the 23 year old will not just embrace the tournament but enjoy it too.

How they qualified

Despite back-to-back defeats by Portugal and Northern Ireland, they edged the former to win Group F by a point. They conceded just five times in 10 games.

Prediction – Round of 16

Fabio Capello and his side should have enough to squeeze into the Round of 16 at South Korea’s expense, but the Italian boss is likely to come up against Germany again at that stage just like in 2010. That will see the end of Russia before they host the tournament in 2018.

South Korea

South-Korea-team

  • World Ranking: 55  (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Fourth (2002)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 9 (first in 1954)
  • Manager: Hong Myung-Bo
  • Captain: Lee Chung-Yong

Star Man – Son Heung-Min

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Twenty-one-year-old Son Heung-Min is turning into the main creative force under Hong Myung-Bo. Bayer Leverkusen’s club record signing at £8.5m, he already has four years’ worth of Bundesliga experience under his belt. Created 126 chances at Leverkusen last season, including four assists. Being both pacey and two footed, Heung-Min can patrol a number of attacking positions, and is more than capable with the goal at his mercy and has the immeasurable ability to change the game.

One to Watch – Kim Young-Gwon 

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Kim Young-Gwon mirrors the warrior-like centre-back role performed with distinction by current head coach Hong Myung-Bo during his playing days. Aged just 24, Kim has been tipped for a bright future by club manager Marcello Lippi, Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning coach. Once on Manchester United’s radar, Young-Gwon played a crucial role in helping Guangzhou Evergrande win the Asian Champions League last year, the same season that saw him named in Chinese Super League team of the year.

How they qualified

They edged Uzbekistan out on goal difference to claim the second qualification spot in Asian Group A, ending two points behind Iran. However, laboured performances, including home and away defeats to Iran and away to Lebanon, prompted coach Choi Kang-hee to quit at the end of the campaign.

Prediction – Group Stages

South Korea should battle it out with Russia for second spot in Group H, whilst also checking that Algeria aren’t too close behind them. The neutral would prefer them to progress than Fabio Capello’s side, but the knockout stages might be a step too far for the 2002 co-hosts.

My final table prediction

Group H

 

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3 thoughts on “World Cup Previews – Group H

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