World Cup: Group H preview

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia and Korea Republic

Group H is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and tight groups in this year’s World Cup. Belgium, South Korea and Russia have all achieved fourth spot in previous editions of the tournament, the latter doing it as the Soviet Union, while Algeria has never passed the group stage.

BELGIUM (FIFA Ranking 11)

Belgium qualified comfortably for the 2014 World Cup. They went undefeated through a tough group which included nations with great football pedigree like Croatia, Serbia and Scotland. This coupled with the extraordinary abundance of talent in this young team have many people tipping the Red Devils to go far in this year’s tournament, perhaps even further than their last golden generation in 1986.

Coach, Marc Wilmots, was the last Belgian player to score in a World Cup 12 years ago, and his faith in the players is seen as partly responsible for their great form leading into the tournament. When it comes to tactics, Marc Wilmots has a variety of options at his disposal. He prefers to play a 4-3-3 but if inclined to change it, he would have the quality at his disposal to play in any style desired. Recently, Wilmots has deployed a team with a very strong defensive unit which doesn’t contribute much in attack, allowing the very talented front four of De Bruyne, Hazard, Mirallas and Lukaku to focus on scoring without worrying too much (if at all) on their defensive duties.

There has been speculation the team is too young and inexperienced to deal with the pressure in Brazil, although the average age of the team is 26 - widely considered the age when players reach the peak of their powers.  The remaining nations in group H have similar average ages so the question of experience becomes less of an issue. Belgium will be expected to finish on top of the group and will be quietly confident of achieving a quarter finals berth - any less would be a disappointment.

Key Players

Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku: If these three carry their EPL form into the World Cup, Belgium will be a very hard team to beat.

 Key Match

Belgium v Algeria - 2am, Wednesday 18 June

If Belgium performs well in their first game it will provide the perfect platform for them to build on and defeat the likes of Russia and South Korea.

RUSSIA (FIFA Ranking 19)

All of Russia was devastated to miss out on the last two World Cups. Many of the current squad members were involved in those two qualifying campaigns so they are extremely eager to get a good result from what might well be their last chance at the tournament.

This squad has been together for nearly eight years and they know each other’s game inside out. With the addition of some very talented youngsters and Fabio Capello’s experience, Russia is in a very good position to progress to the round of 16.

The Russians came through qualifying in great form topping a group including the Ronaldo-led Portugal. Capello has opted with a team of all the top players in the Russian Premier League. The benefits of a squad all playing in the same league have been evident in Russia’s lead up to the World Cup.

The key for this team is their solid and experienced core and the clear and organised link between the lines. This clear organisation has been threatened with captain, and on field leader, Roman Shirokov being ruled out of the tournament through injury. This might cause Russia to rely too heavily on sensational youngsters Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kokorin to create and score all the goals.

Key Players

Igor Akinfeev,  Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Kokorin:  Akinfeev is considered by many as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. Kokorin and Dzagoev are the two 23-year-olds who hold the key to unlocking the oppositions defence. If Akinfeev is stopping the goals coming on one end and the youngsters are scoring freely on the other, than Russia has the ability to beat any team in the group.

Key Match

Belgium v Russia - 2am, Monday June 23

If the Russians can get a good result against Belgium than they will show the world they can go far in Brazil.

SOUTH KOREA (FIFA Ranking 57)

The Koreans are the most successful Asian team at the World Cup. This is their eighth consecutive appearance but the first for the majority of the players in the team. If you think Belgium is young, you should have a look at the age of the Koreans. The Korean team heading to Brazil can be summed up by two words - inexperience and potential.

The group has plenty of young talent with a huge amount of ability, playing in some of the biggest leagues around the world and with Hong Myung-bo, considered one of the best Asian players in history, at their helm they are not to be underestimated.

The South Koreans have always played brilliant football, keeping possession, moving quickly and passing with unbelievable accuracy. The one thing they have always lacked is a strong physical presence up front and in the centre of defence. Once again this seems to be the source of their problems.

The Koreans form of late has been underwhelming, to put it nicely. They scraped through qualifying and have lost more games than they have won in the last two years. Recently they have lost to the likes of Mexico, Tunisia and the USA.

It is clear that changes are needed before their World Cup campaign begins. A possible solution to their striking problem is the impressive Kim Shin-wook, one of the few K-League players in the squad. The 6 foot 6 inch striker provides a threat in the air but is also great with his feet, and has even been known to drop back into a number 10 role.

Recently Hong Myung-bo has stayed loyal to former Arsenal striker Park Chu young, despite the lack of return in the form of goals. This may be Shin-wook’s time to shine. With the in-form Son Heung-min, currently considered Korea’s best player, playing with him they could be a lethal and balanced strike force able to upset any defence.

The Koreans are facing a last place finish but one positive comes from the fact that the majority of the team is young enough to be a huge force in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Key Players

Son Heung-min, Kim Young-gwon, Koo Ja-cheol: Kim Young-gwon runs the defence and has been hailed by Marcelo Lippi as one of the best centre halves in Asia while Koo will be running the midfield. It comes down to the pacey two-footed attacker, Min, to create and score the goals.

Key Match:

Russia v South Korea - 8am, Wednesday June 18

If the Koreans can overcome Russia in their opening fixture it will set them up perfectly for a second round clash against Algeria.

ALGERIA (FIFA Ranking 22)

Algeria is preparing to enter their fourth ever tournament and they will be making their second consecutive appearance.

After never passing the group stage Algeria will be desperate to go where they never have before.

This year promises to be their best chance since they were controversially denied the privilege in 1982, when West Germany and Austria manufactured a result that allowed them both to progress at the North Africans’ expense.

With a youthful team full of players plying their trade at clubs all over Europe, hopes are high in the camp and back home. The Fennec Foxes are led by former PSG manager Vahid Halilhodzic, who will be eager to show his credentials at the tournament after qualifying with Côte d'Ivoire but being sacked three months before the 2010 finals. Algeria’s key to success is their attacking third, where all their star European players will be causing havoc for the opposing teams. They have a variety of exciting options in the striker and attacking midfield positions.

Algeria will be looking to take advantage of their underdog status in the group and, with arguably their best team in history, they have every chance of getting to the knockout stage.

Key Players

Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani, Madjid Bougherra:  Captain Bougherra is playing his last tournament and is the core of the defence, an area which sorely needs a strong leader after conceding weak goals from set pieces recently. When he is on song the Algerians are particularly hard to penetrate, while Feghouli and Slimani are vital to the teams attacking style. Slimani was in fine form, scoring freely in qualifying and finding dangerous positions in the box.

Key Match

Belgium v Algeria - 2am, Wednesday June 18

Algeria’s performance in their first game against group favourites Belgium will be a real indicator of what they can do in this tournament. A good performance and a result of any kind will put them in a great position to progress for the first time.

PROJECTED TABLE

  1. Belgium
  2. Russia
  3. Algeria
  4. South Korea

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