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 Posted by Kevin Palmer
Jun 10, 2014

Group H: Belgium to surprise?

Group H | Belgium | Russia | South Korea Algeria 

Conventional Wisdom

The explosion of talent in Belgian football over the last few years has brought them to a point where they head into their first World Cup among the dark horses to go all the way and win the trophy, yet such lofty expectations are tough for a team that has yet to perform in major championship conditions to match.

On paper, Belgium boasts one of the most naturally gifted squads taking part this World Cup. From keeper Thibaut Courtois [who performed heroics in Atletico Madrid's thrilling season] to defenders Vincent Kompany [Manchester City] and Jan Vertongen [Tottenham], a midfield selection that includes Eden Hazard [Chelsea], Alex Witsel [Zenit St Petersburg] and striker Romelu Lukaku, this is truly a golden generation of Belgian talent.

What we are about to find out is whether coach Marc Wilmots has the tactical nous and his players boast the big game mentality to thrive in a unfamiliar South American conditions on the World Cup stage. Belgium may be Group H favourites, but they have much to prove.

- Men in Blazers: Who will win the battle for second in H?
- 32 Teams in 32 Days: Belgium | Russia | South Korea | Algeria

Must Watch

Italian veteran Fabio Capello has long been celebrated as a master tactician and he will doubtless have devised a plan to contend with Belgium's multi-talented line-up when his Russia side take them on in Rio on June 22.

Capello failed to impress when in charge of England at the last World Cup finals four years ago, so expect the multi-decorated coach to view this second chance as a moment when he can redeem himself on the biggest stage of them all.

Capello is expected to deploy a second defensive midfielder in his line-up for the clash with Belgium to support first choice starter Denis Glushakov [Spartak Moscow], with his club colleague Dmitri Kombarov a set-piece expert and a key cog in their plans. Dynamo Moscow's Aleksandr Kokorin will be the focal point of an attack that will look to burst Belgium's ambitions.

A victory for Russia against Belgium would transform this group's appearance and Capello is a fine man to have on your side for such an occasion.

Main Men

Eden Hazard [Belgium] - Chelsea's creative midfield maestro scored 14 Premier League goals last season, yet rumours persist of a big-money move to Paris Saint-Germain this summer. A strong World Cup would inflate his already lavish price tag.

Islam Slimani [Algeria] - Top scorer in his nation's World Cup qualifying push, Sporting Lisbon often used him as a super-sub last season. He still scored an impressive number of goals despite his second string status.

Yuri Zhirkov [Russia] - Russia coach Fabio Capello was hit by a blow as his captain Roman Shirokov, was ruled out of the World Cup. Instead, the former Chelsea star Zhirkov will be expected to create chances aplenty and chip in with the odd goal or two.

Son Heung-Min [South Korea] - The star turn of this South Korea side was a regular for Levkerusen in the Bundesliga last season, scoring ten times. He is a threat with his long range shooting and his well-timed runs into the box. His nation needs him to sparkle at Brazil 2014.

What Matters Most

It may seem as if Algeria and South Korea are merely making up the numbers in Group H, but upsets tend to be a part of the opening phase of every World Cup.

While Algeria appear to be the weakest of the four teams in the group, coach Vahid Halilhodzic is an experienced operator who believes his side have a chance to emerge as a surprise team in the group. However, their defensive flaws are likely to be exposed, especially by a speedy Belgian attacking line-up.

What of South Korea? Bayern Leverkusen's Son Heung-Min is a key cog in a line-up that plays a swift, counter-attacking style under coach Hong Myung-Bo. Effective against their modestly talented Asian rivals, it may not be enough at Brazil 2014.

Expect Belgium and Russia to progress in this group, but there are no certainties at a World Cup.

Key Stat

South Korea is the only Group H team that reached the knockout round in 2010, and both Belgium and Russia are at the World Cup for the first time since 2002. Top to bottom, this is the weakest group, according to ESPN's Soccer Power Index, with an average rank of 31.

- Five Aside Group H preview

Prediction

1. Belgium
2. Russia
3. South Korea
4. Algeria

Group A | Group B | Group C
Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G

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