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World Cup 2014: A preview of Group H

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Two days to go and today we wrap up our preview of the eight groups and 32 teams competing at the World Cup in Brazil. We already previewed Groups A-G. Today we’ll finish our analysis with a look at Group H: Algeria, Belgium, Russia and South Korea.

Algeria

Algeria is a mostly unknown entity on the world soccer stage. Regardless of that fact they are currently ranked number 22 by FIFA.

This is Algeria’s second straight appearance at the World Cup. In 2010 they only conceded two goals. Unfortunately, they didn’t score any and were eliminated in the group rounds.

Scoring should not be a problem for Algeria this time out as the team is filled with young talent with a few veteran players. A number of top French footballers have been of Algerian descent such as Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema. Algeria is working on improving their national team in order to encourage players with Algerian backgrounds to represent the ‘Desert Foxes’.

Bosnian manager Vahid Halilhodzic is considered one of the best forwards to have come out of Bosnia. He scored 203 goals in 388 appearances during his playing days (1971-1987). He also has a solid managerial background. He led the Ivory Coast to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Algeria’s on field captain is Madjid Bougherra. The center-back has made 61 appearances for his country dating back to 2004.

Players to look out for include strikers Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia and Islam Slimani who plays for Sporting Lisbon.

Belgium

Belgium is my dark horse in this year’s World Cup. The small country has flown under the radar, but it arrives in Brazil with a FIFA ranking of 11 and a roster full of big name players. Belgium has reached the knockout stages of the tournament five times. The country’s best finish was fourth in 1986.

The Belgian team is led by Marc Wilmots. The former national team member scored 28 goals for his country and took over as manager in 2012. Wilmot was the scorer of Belgium’s last World Cup goal against Russia in 2002.

Belgium is a physically strong team with a defense that includes Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and a backline featuring Toby Alderweireld of Atletico Madrid, Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham.

Belgium also possess many great options in midfield including Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Kevin Mirallas of Everton, Manchester United duo Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj, Kevin De Bruyne of Wolfsburg and Alex Witsel of Zenit St. Petersburg

In addition to Eden Hazard, Belgium’s other key player is striker Romelu Lukaku who scored 15 goals while on loan to Everton this past season.

Russia

This is Russia’s third World Cup and the hope is that Russia will make it out of the group rounds for the first time. It’s also important that the country performs well on the world stage as Russia is the host nation for the 2018 World Cup.

In Fabio Capello, Russia has a highly experienced manager. He has managed top clubs in Italy and Spain and most recently served as head coach for England. He has been with Russia since 2012.

Russia’s strength is on defense where they held opponents to just five goals in ten World Cup qualifying matches. The club’s center-backs Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich play together at CSKA Moscow.

Something else that should work to the advantage of the Russian team is the fact that every player on the 23 man squad plays their club football within Russia. These players are very familiar with each other.

South Korea

Following South Korea’s exit from the 1954 World Cup, the Red Devils did not return until 1986. Since then they have qualified for eight straight World Cups including the 2002 tournament where South Korea and Japan were co-hosts. The South Korean side won a lot of fans worldwide in 2002. In front of thousands of chanting fans dressed in red, the Red Devils finished fourth.

South Korea is led by Hong Myung-Bo who was the captain of the 2002 side. Hong is a popular figure in his country and well respected by his players.

South Korea’s squad is young. Outside of defender Kwak Tae-hwi who is 35, every player is in their 20’s.

Players to look out for include midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng, defender Kim Young-Gwon and 21-year-old forward Son Heung-min who plays for Bayer Leverkusen.

This is a tough group to call but I see Belgium winning the group with Algeria and South Korea battling for the second spot.

That concludes our preview of the World Cup groups. Enjoy the games.

Past Group Previews:

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