World Cup 2014 Preview
The Group Stages
Similar to Group G, the two European nations are hot favourites to advance from Group H. It is hard to see any other outcome as we take a look at the final group in the first phase of this summers finals.
Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic
Former Belgian-midfielder, Marc Wilmots, is the national team coach since 2012. He had been the assistant manager since 2009 and moved to his new role after the departure of Georges Leekens. To mention an over-used cliche, Belgium are in the midst of a golden generation of footballers. Many of these talented first-teamers play their football in the English Premier League; Nacer Chadli, Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen at Spurs; Lukaku and Mirallas at Everton; Fellaini at Everton, Kompany at Manchester City, Eden Hazard at Chelsea, Benteke at Villa, Vermaelen at Arsenal and reserve goalkeeper Simon Mignolet at Liverpool. Other noted players in the squad are the impressive young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtouis, Toby Alderweireld, Daniel Van Buyten, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, and Steven Defour.
Belgium won Group A in their European qualifying section, conceding only four goals and finishing nine points clear of nearest rivals Croatia. De Bruyne was their top-scorer with four goals on the way. Wilmots has some fantastic game-changers to choose from. The most difficult part may be deciding upon and settling on his best starting eleven. Belgium are ranked 10th in the world.
Algeria are one of the five countries to qualify for the finals from Africa. They won their group phase easily ahead of both Mali and Benin. Algeria then had to face Burkina Faso in the playoffs. They did just enough to edge them out on away goals after winning 3-2 away and losing 0-1 at home, which left it at 3-3 on aggregate. Islam Slimani scored five goals on the way to Brazil and is coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s first-choice up-front. Other players that their opponents will need to be aware of are Madjid Bougherra in defence and creative-midfielder Sofiane Feghouli. Algeria are ranked 25th in the world.
England’s loss was very much Russia’s gain in the case of Fabio Capello. The strict disciplinarian has led Russia to 19th in the FIFA rankings and more importantly to first place in their European qualifying group ahead of favourites, Portugal. Capello can call on the experience of ever-present goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, Shirokov and Fayzulin in midfield and Kerzhakov up-front. Kerzhakov scored five goals in the qualifiers. Capello certainly knows how to make his teams hard to beat and Russia may make it a photo-finish with Belgium in the battle for first place in Group H.
Ranked 60th in the FIFA rankings, Korea Republic are the ‘weakest’ team at the World Cup. Korea Rep. won their initial group phase ahead of Lebanon, Kuwait and UAE. They then earned an automatic ticket to Brazil by finishing 2nd behind Iran in the next group stage. They just about edged it ahead of Uzbekistan on goal difference. Park Chuyoung scored six goals in qualifying, closely followed by Lee Keunho on five goals. Coach Hong Myungbo has a relatively small pool of talent to choose from compared to other nations. Some players that the rest of the world may be familiar with are team-captain Lee Chungyong of Bolton, Son Heungmin and Koo Jacheol who play in the Bundesliga and front-men Kim Shinwook and the aforementioned Lee Keunho.
Group H predictions:
Despite a good performance at the 2002 finals on home soil when they finished fourth, Korea Republic appear not to have enough about them this time around to trouble Belgium or Russia. The Algerian team are probably the best they ever have been but it still may not be enough to qualify for the last sixteen. Belgium are tipped by many to reach the quarter-finals at least while Capello’s Russia may well be the dark horses of Brazil 2014.
Join us again in a few days for our preview of the last sixteen.
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