World Cup Preview: Group H
Continuing our World Cup Preview, we reach the eighth and final group. In Group H, we have a country the size of Maryland that is considered the heavy favorite of the group, an Algerian side that gave the United States everything they could handle before the Americans pulled out the victory late, a South Korean selection that hasn't made much noise since making it to the semifinals as co-host in 2002, and a Russian squad that needs to figure out their offense and improve their overall focus-- though their new manager, Fabio Capello, has what it takes to push this team in the right direction.
Here's how each selection breaks down:
Algeria- After giving both England and United States headaches in South Africa 2010, Algeria has now been able to recruit and nationalize talent with Algerian ancestry that historically played for France-- i.e. Zinedine Zidane. Saphir Taider and Faouzi Ghoulam both made the decision to play for Algeria after being groomed through the French system. Now they just need to create coherence with Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli to give Algeria a realistic shot of making it out of group play to the round of 16.
Belgium- The backline of Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, and Thomas Vermaelen conceded only four goals in World Cup qualifying. The midfield has a nice mix of bruisers (Marouane Fellaini), quick-footed distributors (Eden Hazard and Alex Witsel), and creative wingers (Kevin De Bruyne, Kevin Mirallas, and 19-year old Adnan Januzaj). The 4-2-3-1 formation tops out with striker Romelu Lukaku who imposes his will upon defenses with big hulking size. Belgium has as many top 10 scorers in England as Argentina, France, Spain, and the Netherlands combined-- so the scoring punch is quite present. The country may only be the size of Maryland, but this squad is looking to make a huge statement in Brazil.
Korea Republic- South Korea needs to improve their defense and concentration on set pieces as 55% of the goals they conceded came from set pieces during qualifying-- only Iran was worse. When you consider that their only true scoring threat is Son Heung-min, the Koreans must play perfect defense and hope to simply outwork their opponents. Players such as Kim Bo-Kyung, Koo Ja-Cheol, and Park Chu-Young need to step up to give the Koreans a chance to make another trip outside of the group stage.
Russia- Capello leads a defensive-minded squad that will need Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Aleksandr Kokorin to be consistent and provide the offensive punch they will need to advance out of group play. Capello will need to improve the confidence and concentration of the Russians. They looked like one of the top teams in Euro 2012 before flopping out in the first round. The Russians have also allowed 60% of their opponents' qualifying goals on headers. If they fix these issues, the Russians might have what it takes to advance to the knockout stage.
Best Match- Belgium vs Russia
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Belgium 7 pts
2. Russia 5 pts
3. Korea Republic 4 pts
4. Algeria 0 pts