World Cup Preview: Group H

Romelu Lukaku will hope for some hair raising moments for Belgium in Brazil - Dean Mouhtaropoulos

World Cup dark horses Belgium should progress from Group H but who will join them?

Group H is the last group to get under way in the World Cup and it contains a team that many observers have picked as a dark house to win the trophy. Belgium could progress far in the competition and in Group H they are overwhelming favourites. Russia, South Korea and Algeria already look to be fighting it out for second place.


Belgium


FIFA Ranking – 11th


The Belgians have a squad made up of stars from the EPL and Spain’s La Liga and as well as being successful, could be an attractive side to watch with a myriad of attacking midfielders from Europe's top clubs. Their weakness could out be out wide defensively where they will deploy recognised central defenders as full backs and further forward where their wingers seem unwilling to track back and help.


Players to watch


Vincent KompanyThe Manchester City captain is one of the world’s best defenders and will lead by example for Belgium. A great talker and organiser in defence, Kompany will be a threat from set-pieces as part of a physically imposing team that could have a lot of success in the air against most of the countries in the competition.


Eden HazardHazard will look to build on a breakthrough season in the EPL for Chelsea. The playmaker can operate in range of attacking positions and is likely to be given a free role to roam into whichever position he wishes. The former Lille man scored 14 goals and provided 7 assists in the EPL this season.


Rising stars


Thibaut Courtois & Romelu LukakuChelsea have the luxury of two potential world superstars that cannot even find a place in their squad. Courtois and Lukaku have only made a total of 3 appearances for their parent club and have instead been loaned out to gain experience. Courtois has been a revelation in goal for Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and Lukaku has evolved into one of the EPL’s most dangerous strikers. This World Cup provides the perfect platform for them both to prove to Jose Mourinho that they should play a central role for Chelsea next season. Lukaku has been carrying an injury and could miss their first game.


Prediction – Will qualify from the group and could go all the way to the semi-finals if they can get past Germany or Portugal in the Round of 16.


Russia


FIFA Ranking – 19th


In contrast to Belgium’s squad of international travellers, Russia are the only country in the World Cup whose squad are all based in their domestic league. With very few other players from the Russian league playing at the World Cup, it makes it very difficult to assess the strength of their roster. However, with Italian veteran coach Fabio Capello at the helm, you can be sure that they will be well organised and defensively sound. As hosts of the next World Cup, Russia will be hoping to qualify for the second round at the very least.


Players to watch


Alan Dzagoev – The CSKA Moskow midfielder was joint top-scorer at Euro 2012 and will play a key role for Russia by providing a goal threat from midfield. With Roman Shirokov ruled out of the World Cup on the eve of the tournament there is even more need for Dzagoev to time his runs to perfection and get on the scoresheet.


Sergei Ignashevich – Central defender Ignashevich is another player from CSKA Moscow and could line up alongside 4 other club mates in defence and in goal. This familiarity could really help Russia be solid in defence and make them hard to beat. The World Cup could be the 34-year-old’s last major tournament and he could win his 100th cap if they can progress from the group.


Rising star


Alexander Kokorin – Versatile forward Kokorin is seen as the future of Russian football and will be hoping to impress at this World Cup. The Dynamo Moscow man scored four goals in qualifying but the World Cup could prove a big step up as these goals came against Israel and Luxembourg.


Algeria


FIFA Ranking – 22nd


Algeria enter their 4th World Cup aiming to qualify from their group for the very first time. The North Africans may never have a better chance with the open looking race for second in Group H as they have put together an young and improving squad, many of whom were born and raised in France. Previous eras have seen players of Algerian origin such as Zinedine Zidane pulling on the blue shirt of France but Algeria have managed to persuade a number of talented players to represent them.


Players to watch


Sofiane Feghouli – An example of the next generation of French born players who have committed to Algeria, Feghouli certainly has the talent and experience to light up the World Cup. The right winger plays in Spain for La Liga and is known more for creating goals than scoring them. Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger is a big fan of the 24-year-old who he described as a "physical phenomenon".


Madjid BougherraThe centre half is far and away the most experienced member of the Algeria squad with over 60 caps for his country. As the captain and undisputed leader of the team, it will be up to Bougherra to guide his young teammates through the competition. Bougherra has had a much travelled club career and can be done to inconsistent play like errors of concentration and rash challenges. If he can remain focussed, this World Cup could provide a nice swansong to his career.


Rising star


Nabil Bentalab – The Tottenham midfielder only committed his international career to Algeria in January but finds himself months later on the verge of an important role at the World Cup. Bentalab burst onto the EPL scene this season after Tim Sherwood took over at White Hart Lane and his passing abilities really caught the eye. At only 19 years of age, Bentalab has shown the early promise to develop into a dominant midfielder for both club and country and it will be interesting to see if he can control games from midfield at the World Cup level.


Prediction – In the reckoning for second place in the group but will not be disgraced by finishing third.


South Korea


FIFA Ranking – 57th


South Korea are unlikely to ever match their 4th place finish at the 2002 World Cup and judging by their recent results they will struggle to progress from Group H. They have lost 5 of their last 7 games including a heavy 4-0 defeat to Ghana in their final warm-up game. Many of their squad are based in Europe but they have no real stars at any of the bigger western clubs. Group H could be an open group and even if they are unable to progress, South Korea could play a vital role in determining who does go through to the next round.


Players to watch


Ki Sun-yeung – Ki spent the 2013/14 season on loan at Sunderland and operated in a much more advanced position to the one he played at Swansea City. The midfielder, who has a developing eye for goal and has scored some spectacular strikes, will be vital to South Korea’s chances of success due to his versatile skills and top-level experience.


Koo Ja-Cheol – The South Korean skipper has made a reputation for himself in Asia as contributing goals from midfield with an impressive 12 in 37 caps for his country. Koo has had a nomadic recent career in Germany playing for 4 clubs in the last 4 seasons and the opposition at this World Cup could prove a bridge too far for the FC Mainz player.


Rising star


Son Heung-Min – The Bayer Leverkusen forward has spent his whole professional career in Germany and brings a German attitude and approach to the South Korean team. He is Leverkusen’s record signing and South Korea will look to the 21-year-old to provide a clinical touch in front of goal. He only has 6 international goals to his name so far but will look to add to that during the tournament.


Prediction – Tricky opponents but South Korea are unlikely to progress from Group H.

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