Algeria, Russia, Korea and Belgium: meet Back of the Net's Paul Watson...
This is the first time on record that a non-fictional Belgian may do something of note without using a bike. Russia, South Korea and Algeria may have other ideas, but probably not – because Algeria aren’t very good, South Korea might be a bit worse and ideas aren’t really encouraged in Russia.
World Cup pedigree
Algeria have long been hampered by players who qualify to play for them choosing France instead, but on the bright side Zinedine Zidane dedicated the 1998 World Cup to Algeria in an odd last-gasp miscalculation and it remains the only World Cup in the Desert Foxes’ trophy cabinet. Algerian-born philosopher/goalkeeper Albert Camus – another to nail his colours to France’s mast – found a link between football and existentialism, but over the years a keen sense of disorientation in the face of a meaningless world has hindered more than helped Algerian teams.
With the exception of 2002, when joint-hosts South Korea finished fourth in circumstances that weren’t remotely suspicious, the Taeguk Warriors generally decide between a group-stage or second-round exit depending on their mood. While neighbours North Korea’s footballers have been threatened with hard labour in the salt mines for faring poorly on the world stage, South Korea’s players face the very real possibility of signing for teams like Wigan. As a result they will give everything they have to the cause.
Fabio Capello’s authoritarian approach has been oddly popular in Russia, where he has guided the national team to only their third finals appearance in six attempts.
South Korea boss Hong Myong-bo spent the best part of the year focusing on persuading Park Ji-sung not to retire from international football, raising doubts about the strength of both the Korean squad and his own powers of persuasion. The coach has claimed that South Korea have the toughest challenge of any team in Brazil; it remains to be seen what that challenge is and whether it will interfere with their taking part in Group H.
Russia have no stars. Every player is equally important. The Russians used to have a star in Andrey Arshavin, but that ended badly when he was revealed to be three pre-pubescent boys stacked on top of each other.
Marouane Fellaini is crucial to Belgium for navigational purposes, but the real standout performer is likely to be Adnan Janujaz who only played his first game of football this season and has really taken to it. The Manchester United boy-man chose Belgium over five other nations and three religious cults who also wanted to claim him.
Algeria defender Madjid Bougherra is often described as wearing his heart on his sleeve, a messy practice that ensures he spends most of games waiting to be allowed back on by the fourth official.
Did you know?
Russia will host the next World Cup, in 2018. We are informed by a Russian government spokesman that it will be the first football competition to take place in the country since Euro 2012.