World Cup Preview Group H: Belgium and the pack- Algeria, Russia, South Korea
In terms of talent, there is no group at this year’s World Cup that sees such a huge gap between its leaders and the pack than Group G. Though Belgium, the group favorites, haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup, the Red Devils will arrive in Brazil as one of the most talented teams on the planet. Only a lack of experience and notable results keeps the Belgians from being more than a dark horse.
The rest of the group, however, may be the least inspiring two-through-four of the tournament:
- Russia are in a partial transition from the Zenit St. Petersburg-dominated teams of the last six years;
- inexperience through South Korea’s team makes the group’s second Red Devils a better bet for 2018;
- while an Algeria side that will be better than its 2010 version are more scrappy than dangerous.
Let’s take another look at Group H (click on country name for full preview)
Belgium: Though the Belgians have one of the world’s most enviable cadres of young talent, the team hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in 12 years, leading many to ask how they could have possibly been seeded. Led by Eden Hazard in attack and Vincent Kompany in defense, however, Marc Wilmots’ team is clearly the best in this group. Only inexperience can trip them up.
Algeria: Moujid Bougherra’s presence anchors a defense that’s capable of competing with the South Koreans and Russians, but the team’s big questions are in attack. In South Africa, the Desert Foxes failed to score a goal. The lack of a proven scorer means goals could prove equally problematic in Brazil. Sofiane Feghouli’s playmaking will be vital.
Russia: The steel Fabio Capello instilled saw Russia confidently manage qualifying, but a slow defense could have problems with the speed of Group G’s opponents. Going forward, the loss of captain Roman Shirikov will hurt, leaving Russia hoping Aleksandr Kokorin will break out or Aleksandr Kerzahkov is more productive than he did in his last big tournament (Euro 2012).
South Korea: Threats going forward from Son Heung-min and Lee Chung-yong give the South Koreans the ability to take advantage of Russia and Algeria’s slower defenders, while a midfield triangle featuring Koo Ja-cheul and Ki Sung-yeung provides the quality and creativity to make use of Hong Myung-Bo’s most dangerous players. The side’s inexperienced center backs could prove problematic, while Park Chu-young may not give them the threat they need in the middle of attack.
Who’s going through: Belgium and Russia, though with Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski in defense, the speed of Algeria and South Korea could hurt them
Who’s going home: Algeria and South Korea. Algeria will consider this tournament a moral victory if they prove more dangerous than they were in South Africa, while 2014 sees the Koreans caught between two worlds.
Top players to watch:
5. Son Heung-min, South Korea
4. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
3. Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
2. Vincent Kompany, Belgium
1. Eden Hazard, Belgium