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Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 1:15:36 AM
Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 1:16:44 AM
by peter rutherford
Belgium's national soccer players attend their training session in Mogi das Cruzes, June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Belgium are not firing on all cylinders at the World Cup and had to grind out narrow wins over Algeria and Russia in Group H, so a game against leaky South Korea might be just what the doctor ordered.
The Belgians are considered 'dark horses' by many pundits to go all the way in Brazil after their star-studded squad went through World Cup qualifying unbeaten.
But they have looked far from fluent in Group H, coming from behind late on to edge Algeria 2-1 and only beating Russia through Divock Origi's 88th-minute goal.
Belgium's impressive qualifying campaign helped see them installed as fifth favourites to win the World Cup, but their prospects were dealt a severe blow when front man Christian Benteke ruptured an Achilles tendon in April.
Romelu Lukaku became the automatic replacement, but he has struggled to lead the line and Belgium have looked toothless without a dominant central striker.
While the win over Russia sealed Belgium's place in the last 16, they will have to find their scoring touch if they are to go deeper in the tournament.
Playmaker Eden Hazard has so far failed to deliver the consistent performances his coach craves, and while he set up both Belgian winners in the last 10 minutes against Algeria and Russia, he knows he must do better.
"I give myself two out of 10 for the opening 80 minutes and nine out of 10 for the closing stages," he told reporters this week. "I haven't been satisfied with our level, especially with the squad that we have, we can do better."
Korea can still qualify in second place with a big win, and providing the result of the other group game goes their way, but it would be a minor miracle if they keep the clean sheet they will need against Belgium.
The Koreans saw their hopes virtually extinguished on Sunday with a 4-2 defeat by Algeria.
Their shaky defence shipped three goals in the first 45 minutes and were prised apart again for a fourth in the second half to stymie any hopes of a comeback.
Prior to Sunday's game, Algeria had scored once in 28 years at the World Cup. It was also the first time an African side had scored four goals at the tournament.
Captain Koo Ja-cheol chose to focus on Korea's second half performance, when they scored twice early on and had Algeria rocking.
"Nothing has been decided yet," he told Korean media. "If we have no hope then the team won’t be motivated -- but we do. We will get a good result if we play like we did in the second half against Algeria."
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)
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