Feel it, it is almost here. The World Cup is just two days away from kicking off and excitement is reaching fever pitch. Group H holds a possibly dark horse for the tournament and team who has not scored a World Cup goal since the 1980s. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
This is one of the easier groups in the competition, provided you’re a team that’s quite good at football. It features one of the tournament’s dark horses and, quite possibly, one of the most exciting teams to watch. Africa’s hopes rest on Algeria in this group, but those hopes shouldn’t be higher than hoping the Fennec Foxes actually score a goal.
Who’s playing and what are the odds of advancing?
Belgium, Russia, South Korea and Algeria make up the group. Belgium are the big stars of this group while Russia are the team to watch. For South Korea and Algeria, the goal is simply to not lose by too many goals.
Beware the Belgium sleeper team
Belgium are one of the dark horses to go on and win the whole thing. Although it rarely happens in football, where a team comes out of nowhere and claim victory, Belgium have a quietly gone about their business and snuck into favour. Another interesting fact is that they have the third-highest combined salary of all teams, according to a Belgian newspaper. Although wages in football are somewhat inflated, that kind of money must mean something.
The Belgians qualified for the World Cup with a game to spare and depending on how they are fixed when it comes to the round of 16, they could very well become title-contenders, not just outsiders. Their group must be easy, but the team must ensure that this does not drain their sharpness and drive. It’s the first time they are competing at a major tournament for over a decade, but if their qualifying campaign is anything to go by, expect some magic.
Algeria’s challenge: score a goal
Algeria have not scored a goal at the World Cup since 1986. That sounds far more dramatic than it is, but it’s still a nice party-stat to know. During their 2010 campaign in South Africa, they went goalless. Before that, the last time they competed at the tournament was in 1986, so it’s not really all that dramatic.
Their qualifying campaign for Brazil was much better, though. They scored 13 goals and finished top of their group and then beat Burkina Faso in a play-off to seal their spot. They are probably one of the weakest teams of the tournament and any sort of win will be an upset. Many of their players hail from France, so if you’re the type who dwells on nationality jokes, you can always call them the France B team.
Russia are the other sleeper team
Since Fabio Capello took over as manager, Russian switched from 4-3-3 to a more robust 4-2-3-1. He axed Andrei Arshavin and under his guidance, Russia pipped Portugal in the qualifiers to seal their spot in Brazil. The last time Capello went to a World Cup was with England in 2010. That didn’t end so well, with England being dull and schooled by Germany in the Round of 16. They should easily make it out of the group stages, barring a wave of injury sweeping across them.
Players to watch
Vincent Kompany (Belgium): Don’t forget Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, either, but focus on Vincent Kompany. Captain and fresh off a great campaign with Manchester City in the Premier League, Kompany is a beast of an influence. Aside from his defensive skills, he is a real motivator and astute leader. The fact that he’s a clutch player who can hold his nerve on the big stage will go a long way in pushing Belgium ahead.
Alan Dzagoev (Russia): Alan Dzagoev has recently switched position from playing on the right to a more central role in midfield, thanks to Capello’s reformatting of the side. It means that the creativity of the team rests almost solely with him. He had an injury niggle last year, but should be back up to full fitness by the time the tournament starts. He’s one of the most experienced players in the team and it will be up to him to spark the side into overdrive.
Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria): One of the many Algerians who hail from France, Sofiane Feghouli pledged his allegiance to Algeria in 2011. In his first game, his influence as clear already. He netted the winner against Gambia in a 2-1 win and he has added a real attacking flair to the side. He can play on the right or just off the striker and has a solid work rate, something which will come in handy against technically advanced teams.
Son Heung Min (South Korea): As the only member of the team playing Champions League football, South Korea will be relying on Son Heung Min to bring some star power and intel to the team. A creative midfielder who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, Heung Min had a decent season with the German side. He dropped in form just a little bit towards the end, but after a little bit of a refresh, his team will be hoping he’s back to his attacking best. DM
Photo: Belgium’s players (top, L-R) Moussa Dembele, Nicolas Lombaerts, Vincent Kompany, Daniel Van Buyten, Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi, Jan Vertonghen, Nacer Chadli, (middle row, L-R) goalkeeper coach Erwin Lemmens, doctor Mario Innaurato, Axel Witsel, Anthony Vanden Borre, Thomas Vermaelen, Adnan Januzaj, Toby Alderweireld, assistant coach Vital Borkelmans, head coach Marc Wilmots, (bottom row, L-R) Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Kevin De Bruyne, goalkeeper Sammy Bossut, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Steven Defour, Laurent Ciman and Dries Mertens pose for a family portrait during the Belgian’s team’s training camp in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, in Knokke June 6, 2014. (REUTERS/Dubrule Laurent)
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí