World Cup Group H Preview – by Liam Whitlock

June 8, 2014 11:50 am

Let’s get straight to the point, Belgium are the bookies favourites to win the group and are dark horses for some to lift the trophy. Will Capello’s experience be enough to see Russia through with Belgium, or will South Korea and Algeria mount a challenge?

Belgium:

How they qualified:

Eastern European nations, Croatia and Serbia are traditionally tough teams to overhaul when it comes to qualifying for a major tournament, but the Belgians made a mockery of that. Among their eight victories, two came away from home against both of those nations, while 10 points were collected from the four encounters against British outfits Wales and Scotland. It all meant that the Red Devils qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2002, when they arrived at one of their forthcoming group opponents – South Korea, with a nine-point margin between themselves and Croatia in second spot.

Manager:

Marc Wilmots: Having turned out in three World Cups as a player with Belgium, Wilmots was entrusted with the managerial responsibility in 2012. Not only has the 45-year-old been lauded for the results that the team have recorded since that point, he’s also be highly credited with giving an opportunity to the youngsters that are fast becoming known as Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’.

Strengths:

Their, er, strength for one thing; Belgium are a physically imposing side and are seldom out-muscled. They also have an abundance of versatile attacking players and, crucially, a tight-knit team spirit instilled by coach Marc Wilmots.

What Belgium are good at?

Attacks from the wings

Scoring from set pieces

Close range defending

Belgium had the 2nd best out of any World Cup team in terms of creating goals from the right flank. 39% of their goals from qualification came from here. Mertens (7.5M) could be a useful addition to your team as he is likely to play down that side. They rank best for not conceding more than one goal a game, not once did Wilmots’ side concede 2 goals in a game.

Weaknesses:

Marc Wilmots has expressed concern that regular starters such as Thomas Vermaelen, Kevin De Bruyne, Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini are suffering from a lack of playing time at club level.

Vincent Kompany’s commanding presence in central defence was sorely missed in recent back-to-back friendly defeats at home, while the wide players like to drift infield and do not routinely help out with defensive duties – which can leave the full-backs exposed.

What Belgium isn’t so good at?

Defending late goals

Defending free kicks

Scoring late goals

Belgium rank the worst for goals conceded from the wings. A whopping 75% of their goals let in during qualification were from this, surprising, considering the likes of Kompany and co at the back. Belgium are also a team that lose concentration in their defence during the last 15 minutes of a match, with once again 75 % of their goals being conceded in this time frame, ranking them 2nd to last in that category.

3 Key Players:

Vincent Kompany: A leader of men, since arriving at Manchester City in 2008, Kompany has earned himself a reputation as one of the world’s best defenders. The 28-year-old centre-back will head for Brazil having recently captained the Citizens to their second Premier League title in three seasons. He will also take on the skippering duties for Belgium and is seen as an imposing and solid influence in what is considered to be a fluid attacking side.

Eden Hazard: After featuring in nine of Belgium’s 10 World Cup qualifiers, Hazard played a key role in helping his nation reach Brazil. His personal highlights came in both of the matches against Macedonia, which he ended with a goal in each. He also shone for Chelsea last term, having been named the PFA Young Player of the Year, as well as being included in the Premier League Team of the Year for the second season in succession. What’s more, an injury kept the playmaker out of action in the closing weeks of the campaign, meaning that he should be physically fresh this summer.

Romelu Lukaku: While Chelsea’s Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba were ridiculed for their struggles in front of goal in the Premier League, their cause was not helped by Lukaku’s free-scoring exploits with Everton. It came as a bit of a surprise when Jose Mourinho sanctioned the 21-year-old’s loan departure last summer and he would go on to prove that school of thought to be correct as he found the net 16 times. The tall centre-forward has also shown positive form for Belgium of late, having scored four goals in friendly wins over Luxembourg and Sweden.

Possible Starting XI:

Courtois (5.9)

Alderweireld (5.8)

Van Buyten (5.9)

Kompany (6.2)

Vertonghen (6.0)

Witsel (5.8)

Fellaini (5.7)

Mertens (7.5)

De Bruyne (5.9)

Hazard (7.5)

Lukaku (9.1)

Algeria:

How they qualified:

The Algerians romped through a group that included Mali, collecting 15 points from a possible 18. It meant that a two-legged contest against Burkina Faso stood between The Foxes and their place in Brazil. Many felt that it would be a routine win for Algeria, but after a 3-2 defeat in the away fixture; it would prove to be a nervy return meeting. The Algerians won 1-0 and progressed on the away goals rule, but it was a little too close for comfort.

Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic: The 61-year-old is bound to be extremely excited ahead of this World Cup, particularly because he missed out on the tournament four years ago. He guided Ivory Coast to South Africa in 2010, but following a quarter-final exit in that year’s Africa Cup of Nations, he was fired four months before the start of football’s biggest competition. At club level, Halilhodzic has managed a host of clubs, including Paris Saint-German, whom he guided to Coupe de France success in 2004.

Strengths:

Defending early in games

Scoring from headers

Attacks down the right

19 % of their goals during qualification were from long balls, joint first overall. During the first 15 minutes of qualification, they didn’t let in one goal, being the only country to achieve this.

Weaknesses:

Defending the flanks

Defending set pieces

Protecting a lead

71% of goals conceded from Algeria were from the wings that ranks them second worst overall, something they need to cut out when coming up against players like Lukaku and others. It’s no surprise then that 43% of their goals conceded were from headers, ranking them 28/32.

3 Key Players:

Madjid Bougherra: The former Rangers centre-back is a no thrills type of defender, who appears to enjoy nothing more than being involved in physical tussles with a striker. His organisational skills were there for all to see in 2010 when the Algerian backline caused a shock by keeping a clean sheet during a 0-0 draw with England. It was also his goal that proved to be the winning one against Burkina Faso. As well as Rangers, the unattached defender has played for Crewe Alexandra, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic.

Sofiane Feghouli: A former French youth international, Feghouli changed his allegiance in 2011 to represent Algeria. The energetic midfielder soon proved his worth at international level by scoring three goals during the World Cup qualifying campaign. He’s also been a regular member of the Valencia starting lineup since 2010 and last season the four goals that he scored was his best return in Spain.

Hassan Yebda: Like a number of his international colleagues, Yebda represented France at youth level. He committed himself to Algeria in 2009, though, and has since taken up a role in the heart of the midfield. His experience of having played at the previous World Cup may well prove crucial. League 2 Portsmouth are likely to remember the 30-year-old, who spent a season on loan at England’s very own Maracana, Fratton Park.

Possible Starting XI:

Zemmamouche (4.5)

Ghoulam (4.3)

Medjani (4.4)

Bougherra (4.9)

Mostefa (4.3)

Lacen (5.0)

Brahimi (4.5)

Bentaleb (4.8)

Feghouli (4.8)

Slimani (6.1)

Soudani (6.4)

Russia:

How they qualified:

 There would have been a collective groan in Russia when they were informed that they had been drawn in the same qualifying group as a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal. Yet, a 1-0 victory over the Iberian nation in Moscow back in October 2012 would prove to be crucial come the end of the campaign when the Russians finished a point better off than their nearest challengers to automatically book their place in Brazil.

Manager: Fabio Capello: Following England’s largely forgettable campaign in South Africa, Capello will view the tournament in Brazil as a second chance to prove his credentials at the World Cup. The 67-year-old certainly has an impressive track record to fall back on where his club managerial career is concerned, having taken charge of the likes of AC Milan, Real Madrid and Juventus. He won league titles in Italy and Spain, as well as the Champions League with Milan in 1994.

Strengths:

Scoring early goals

Defending long shots

Defending corners

20% of Russia’s goals came within the first 15 minutes of matches, which ranks them fourth best overall. Russia just like Belgium, The Russians never conceded 2 or more goals in a game, which shows how much better off they are defensively under Capello.

Weaknesses:

Defending headers

Attacking from the wings

Close range shooting

Russia rank worst out of any team for defending headers as 60% of goals let in were from these. They also rank worst out of any team when being in a losing position, a real worry for Capello as his team like mentioned above only ever went 1-0 down. They collected no points from being behind in qualification.

3 key players:

Igor Akinfeev: It’s widely accepted that Russia’s revival under Capello’s management has been built upon solid foundations, which has made Akinfeev a prominent figure. With the 28-year-old regularly between the posts, the Russians shipped just five goals in 10 qualifiers. Having spent his entire career in his homeland with CSKA Moscow, further positive performances in Brazil may result in other clubs making a move for a keeper that is regarded to be one of the best in Europe.

Vasili Berezutskiy: Versatility is a valuable commodity when it comes to a major tournament and Berezutskiy FiTs that bill. The experienced 31-year-old can play as either a full-back or centre-back and even at a push can operate further up the pitch in a wide position. At 6’2”, his commanding figure means that he is a key player when it comes to clearing crosses into the penalty area, as well as being a threat at the other end of the pitch.

Alan Dzagoev: In what is a largely unspectacular and functional Russia team, 23-year-old Dzagoev is the player to provide the flair and unpredictably that can win matches. He announced himself on the international scene at Euro 2012 by finding the net on three separate occasions, which earned the award as the tournament’s joint leading goalscorer. Injuries limited the number of performances that he could make for CSKA Moscow last season, but he still weighed in with four goals as the capital-based outfit won the Russian Premier League.

Possible Starting XI:

Akinfeev (5.5)

Kombarov (5.4)

Berezutski (5.5)

Ignashevich (5.6)

Kozlov (5.1)

Denisov (5.1)

Zhirkov (5.6)

Shirokov (5.6)

Fayzulin (5.5)

Dzageov (5.5)

Kerzhakov (8.4)

South Korea:

How they qualified:

The Asian World Cup qualifying process is a long one, with nations made to contest two separate group campaigns. The South Koreans eased through the first one as winners thanks to four wins from their six outings, but the second stage proved to be much more difficult. Iran advanced to Brazil as winners, as did South Korea in second place, but only on goal difference from Uzbekistan.

Manager: Hong Myung-Bo: Nobody has represented South Korea on more occasions than Hong, who wore the famous red jersey 136 times. It was that experience that went a long way to earning him the manager’s job in 2013, with the nation having already qualified for the World Cup. He inherited the position from Choi Kang-Hee, who stepped down after South Korea failed to qualify for the competition with the previously anticipated flying colours.

Strengths:

Attacks down the left

Close range shooting

Attacks from long balls

They rank second best overall in terms of scoring goals from the left flank, 33% of their goals came from this wing. They are joint top with Algeria for goals scored from long balls with 19% of theur goals coming from this source. This is surprising, due to the height of many in the squad. It is rare to see South Korean outfield players over six feet tall.

Weaknesses:

Conceding late goals

Defending set pieces

Defending the flanks

A whopping 55% of goals The South Koreans conceded were from set pieces, ranking them second worst overall for this. This may be due to the height of many of their players and they look set to struggle when coming up against powerhorses like Lukaku and Kerzhakov. They had the worst record out of any country during qualification in terms of conceding goals in the last 15 minutes. 27% of the goals they let in were during this time frame.

Possible Starting XI:

Jung Sung-ryong (4.8)

Lee Yong (4.4)

Hong Jeong-ho (4.7)

Kim Young-gwon (4.7)

Kim Chang-soo (4.4)

Park Jong-woo (4.7)

Ki Sung-yueng (4.8)

Lee Chung-yong (5.0)

 Koo Ja-cheo (6.1)

 Son Heung-min (5.3)

Park Chu-young (6.5)

Summary:

This will be a fascinating group and a group that on paper might not be enough to just get you through. All eyes will be on the fantastic team that is Belgium. Looking at the group it would be one of the shocks of the World Cup if Belgium doesn’t make it through. Being that Falcao is not going to be in Brazil, they probably have the most physical striker in Romelu Lukaku out of any team in the World Cup. We all know that famous E-A-S-Y (England, Algeria, Slovenia and Yanks) headline Of England’s 2010 World Cup group. Algeria managed to draw 0-0 with Capello’s England side and they seem to turn it up when they play the big boys. Will The SAS of Slimani and Soudani be enough for Algeria? Will Russia continue their recent impressive form, or will the South Koreans hold the KI to do enough to stop the favourites Belgium. I’d expect Belgium and Russia to go through, but remember this is The World Cup we are talking about…

Thanks and good luck all,

Liam Whitlock

This post was written by FiT Admin

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