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Jun 112014

When it comes to Group H, it seems as though it’s “Belgium and everyone else”, but that’s necessarily the case. Yes, the Belgian squad is highlighted by a “golden generation” that has come of age at the right time, but Russia, South Korea, and even Algeria will not make it easy for everyone’s favorite “dark horse” to advance from the group.


Aside from being the victims of American euphoria after Landon Donovan’s last gasp goal in the final round of group stage matches in 2010, Algeria were a largely forgettable side. They weren’t particularly fun to watch and they hardly made much noise despite holding England to a scoreless draw. This 2014 squad, however, will look very different from the lackluster group of 2010. The Algerians won five of their six qualifying matches in the group stage of qualifying in Africa and finished with a goal difference of plus-nine. They went on to oust Burkina Faso in the final round on away goals, despite losing the first leg 3-2. The veteran leader is Madjid Bougherra, who is in the middle of his tenth year of representing his country, but there is some young talent up front. Valencia winger Sofiane Feghouli is fast and pretty efficient scorer from the midfield while Porto super-sub striker Islam Slimani led the team with five goals during the group stage of qualifying. Don’t expect Algeria to just roll over in this group; they’ll earn a few points.


The majority of this Belgium squad will sound very familiar to fans of the English Premier League. More than half of the projected starting XI ply their trade in England. In defense, Vincent Kompany missed a decent chunk of the EPL season for Manchester City due to injury but should be ready to go. He’s joined by Arsenal center back Thomas Vermaelen with Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen expected to play wide left. In the midfield Chelsea fans will recognize the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, though it’s Zenit St. Petersburg holding midfielder Axel Witsel who might be the key player when it’s all said and done. Up top Everton’s Romelu Lukaku is a physical beast who won’t be easily contained by the back lines of South Korea and Algeria. The question for Belgium isn’t whether or not they’ll advance from the group, but rather how far they can go in the knockout round. There’s a ton of talent on this squad and it’s peaking at the right time.

South Korea (Korea Republic)

Maybe I’m holding onto their 2002 semifinal run when they hosted, but I like South Korea’s chances to join Belgium in advancing from this group. Long time Manchester United midfielder Ji Sung-Park is retired and a new generation is being ushered in as South Korea prepare to take part in their ninth consecutive World Cup. It hasn’t been easy for South Korea (they used 45 different players in qualification) but they managed to qualify by virtue of a better goal differential when all was said and done. The most recognizable name is probably Park Chu-young, even though he has made a career out of riding the bench at Arsenal, but the name to watch out for up top is Son Heung-min. At just 21 years of age, Son made a move from Hamburg to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga last summer and proceeded to score 10 goals in 31 appearances. His service will have to come from Swansea City midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, who patrols the center of the midfield. With Russia reeling from injuries, don’t be surprised to see South Korea finish as runners up in this group.


The biggest name for the Russians might just be manager Fabio Capello, who left England after the 2010 World Cup. That’s not necessarily because they lack talent, but because said talent resides primarily in the Russian Premier League. Names like Sergei Ignashevich (center back) and Aleksandr Kerzhakov (striker) may not be well known to those who only watch the top leagues in Europe, but they are still world class players. Unfortunately for Russia, captain/midfielder Roman Shirokov is out due to a back injury and midfielder Denis Glushakov missed the final warmup friendly, although he is still expected to play in the tournament. The Russians are returning to the World Cup for the first time since 2002 when they failed to make it out of the group stage at the hands of…Belgium. Russia is talented and well managed by the pragmatic Capello. Expect the group runner up place to be decided by the opening match between Russia and South Korea.

Player To Watch

Algeria’s Sofiane Feghouli is very fun to watch. He’s fast, an excellent dribbler, and finishes well despite playing in the midfield. If the former French youth international has a a couple solid performances, don’t be surprised to see him make a move away from Valencia this summer.

Group Winner/Runner Up

I’m not high on Belgium’s chances once they reach the knockout round, but it would take a pretty epic collapse on their part to not come out on top of this group; there’s simply too much individual talent. South Korea were thumped 4-0 at the hands of Ghana in their final warmup friendly, but if they can get snatch a win against a less than 100% healthy Russia they’ll come in second. If that first match finishes as a draw, all bets are off.

Adam Uthe

VP of Content Development for GFT and proud supporter of Columbus Crew (MLS) and Liverpool FC (EPL). @AUtheGFT

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