Some might consider Group H to be the most dull in the 2014 World Cup, but Belgium can be a joy to watch while Russia have been excellent under Fabio Capello. South Korea might no be too creative but they’re far from a defensive side, while Algeria will hope that they don’t finish last once again.
It’s clear that the favorites to finish first are the two European sides and especially Belgium, filled with Premier League players. However, Russia have a legendary manager at the helm and did well against Portugal in the qualifiers, while South Korea don’t need home field advantage and corrupt officials to advance anymore, making it far from a walk in the park to win this group.
Since the USSR fell, we haven’t seen anything impressive from the Russian side in the World Cup. In Euro 2012 they started out well before crashing in the next two matches, failing to make it out of the group stage. Their big star is Alan Dzagoev, somehow still playing for CSKA Moscow, and now in a more central role under Capello instead of playing on the right side. Like many other teams with a talented midfield, there are problems when it comes to finishing for their strikers.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov is still Russia’s best with 25 goals for the national side, but he tends to make quite an impression with his incredible misses and not just his goals. Viktor Fayzulin and Aleksandr Kokorin who play on both sides of Dzagoev should be handful for teams as well, and as always with Russia, it’ll be less about the talent; it’ll be about their ability to not fall into complacency and lose focus against lesser teams.
Everyone is picking them to be the dark horse team of the tournament, which might mean they’re headed for a fall, like the Ivory Coast in other years or Colombia from 1994. On paper, except for a right back, Belgium seem like one of the more complete teams heading into the tournament, with Romelu Lukaku up front, a creative midfield with Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin de Bruyne playing behind him while both Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel compose the weak link of this team.
Vincent Kompany is a rock in defense as captain while Jan Vertonghen is very good as a left back or in the middle of defense. Thibaut Courtois just might be the best goalkeeper in the world right now. So what can go wrong? A lot, especially for a young team that’s never been to a major tournament before, so for everyone who feels very excited about Belgium’s chances in this tournament, caution is always wise, especially in such a tricky group.
Never about stars, always about the team. Son Heung-Min might be the biggest name on this side since Park Ji-Sung is no longer with them, but others like Park Chu-Young and Lee Chung-Yong might catch some by surprise, with a very young squad that has only one player (Kwak Tae-Hwi) over the age of 29.
South Korea will also expect Ki Sung-Yueng after a very good season in the Premier League to contribute, as a team with very little creativity but plenty of organization and discipline will try and once again surprise everyone, despite being in every World Cup since 1986 and making the round of 16 four years ago.
This is a different Algeria side than the terrible one we saw from four years ago, making their fourth World Cup. More young offensive talent with Sofiane Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi providing the quality, while there will be a lot expected from 19 year old Nabil Bentaleb of Tottenham to finally lead this team out of the group stage, not to mention look respectable out there.
They will have a problem with their defense, with Madjid Bougherra and Carl Medjani leading the lines. Algeria also don’t have a striker which makes finding goals somewhat of a problem, even if they have the creative power to help create them. Anything but a fourth place finish will be a surprise for the North African side with a squad that has more players born in France than in Algeria.