The Group H fixtures in the forthcoming edition of the World Cup may not be setting the TRP charts soaring but promises to be one of the most keenly contested groups with Belgium, Russia, Algeria and Korea Republic filling up the four slots.
Among the four teams, it can be safely assumed that Belgium and Russia are the favourites to progress further from this group. The Belgium national team, under their all-time top scorer at the World Cup – Marc Wilmots, have been touted as one of the teams likeliest to cause a major upset in Brazil. Most of the players set to represent Rode Duivels(Red Devils) in another week, ply their trade at top English clubs and have emerged as central figures for them over the last couple of seasons. Eden Hazard, after a forgettable stint with the national team under former Belgium boss Georges Leekens, will be desperate to follow up on his performances in the Chelsea’s blues as he prepares to don the number 10 for them next season.
Given the manner in which they qualified for the tournament, calling it convincing would be understating their emphatic campaign in which they registered a record seven wins on a trot. The squad is littered with talent right from their goalkeeping department to the strikers, Courtois to Lukaku, Kompany to Hazard; Wilmots has the finest set of young Belgian footballers at his disposal and it would be such a shame if they fail to qualify from this group.
The other European nation to fight for qualification from this group would be Russia, now managed by former England and Real Madrid boss Fabio Capello. Having been humbled at the Euros two years ago, Capello reacted sharply by dropping an ageing Arshavin and gradually turned them into a more organized unit. Much to the surprise of the critics, especially the ones who were strongly disapproving of Capello during his time in England, Russia managed to finish their qualification group at the top ahead of Portugal.
With the majority of the team based out in Russian league, the weather could well become a problem to deal with for Capello and his boys. But the Italian is known to be a strong disciplinarian and surely has ensured their preparation was designed so to address the humid weather conditions in Brazil.
South Korea are the lowest ranked team in this group, currently now at 55 according to FIFA. As often is the case, the rankings could be misleading as it would be a fallacy to assume Korea would be run over by their opponents. Proud semi-finalists of the 2002 edition, they are now currently being managed by one of the star players from that tournament – Hong Myung-bo. Despite failing to usurp Iran from the top of the qualifying group, they possess a promising unit with the likes of Ki-Seung-Yueng, Son Heung-min and Lee-Chung-yong all plying their trade in Europe.
One of the least talked about dark horses of this competition has been Algeria- sole Arab nation competing in this edition of the football World Cup. They have managed to qualify only twice for the World Cup since 1984, wherein they ended with two wins in the group stages but had to bow out on goal difference, in 2010 and now in, 2014. With exciting players at their disposal, Sofiane Feghouli leading the pack, they have it in them to spring a surprise or two in the group.
Players to Watch Out for
Eden Hazard: The Chelsea attacking midfielder has had a stellar season neatly establishing himself as one of the best players in the English Premier League and the central figure in Jose Mourinho’s scheme of things. Hazard scored 14 times in the league while creating 7 goals for his teammates.
Sofiane Feghouli: The Valencia midfielder has had a solid season for the Oranges earning praise from different managers across the continent. Arsene Wenger heaped praise on the versatile midfielder while Liverpool continue to be linked with a move for the strongly built former U21 French international.
Romelu Lukaku: Mourinho decided to loan out Lukaku to Everton last season and was left to sulk over lack of striking options when they eventually lost out in the title race. The 21 year old was fantastic for the Toffees scoring 15 times and catapulting them to a top four finish.
Other mentions: Aleksandr Kokorin, Ki-Seung-Yueng, Thibaut Courtois
Belgium vs Russia: This fixture will ideally shape the final standings in this group and probably decide who finishes at the top. Both the teams, under able managers, look favourites to make their way past the group stages but would prefer to finish ahead of the other. With Russia boasting a very miserly defensive record during the qualifying stages, it will be some encounter between the Belgian attack and their experienced defenders.
Belgium – 7 points
Russia – 5 points
Algeria – 4 points
Korea – 0 points
Read about the other groups here!