AFTER weeks of reviewing groups for this year’s World Cup, today is the day where I end it all! This week I will be going through teams in Group H.In my opinion, this is a very open group and any side - except for Algeria can qualify for the next round. Many will put their money on Belgium and Russia but South Korea is capable surprising!
What’s my verdict? Here is my take on Group H.
A side laden with talented players. From Eden Hazard to Jan Vertonghen - You name it! They have amazing players in every department. Led by former Belgian international Marc Wilmots, Belgium is the favourites to qualify from this group.
Their last World Cup appearance was in 2002 and at the time, Wilmots was one of their key attacking players. They didn’t impress but Wilmots will surely want to erase that memory by helping his boys to do well.
In defence, they’ve got Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Daniel Van Buyten - Isn’t that mouth watering! These players regularly play for their clubs. Belgium looks set to have one of the meanest defence in this group.
Then you have Axel Witsel, Moussa Dembele and Maroune Fellaini shielding the defence and also attack at the same time.
Eden Hazard, Dries Martens, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin De Bruyne will be tasked to provide the ammunition for the strikers and I’m sure Wilmots will rotate his creative talents as all of them are capable of causing damage.
Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke will be the twin terrors for Belgium and with the ammunition that they are bound to get, expect goals from this two big strikers.
Listing the names itself gives me goosebumps! All of these players are performing on a consistent basis in big leagues and will surely bring that momentum to Brazil.
However, sometimes in-form players can’t guarantee you success - Remember, France in 2002 World Cup? Wilmots will have a big task but Belgium looks set to be first team to qualify for the next round.
I’ve always followed Asian teams progress closely. South Korea have improved a lot in the last 15 years and their success in 2002 certainly rubbed off with the current generation.
They may not have Park Ji-Sung, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Ahn Jung-Hwan and Lee Young-Pyo but with Ki Sung-Yeung, Son Heung-Min, Kim Bo-Keong, Koo Ja-Cheol and Lee Chung-Yong, they’ve got able replacements.
When Park Ji-Sung retired from international football, many thought South Korea lost the face of their football but the emergence of these players steadied the Taegeuk Warriors.
Under 2002 World Cup semi-finalist Hong Myung-Bo, many will not fancy South Korea’s chances of qualifying but I’m pretty optimistic that this young side will give teams like Belgium and Russia a run for their money.
Lee Woon-Jae used to be safe hands for South Korea but under his understudy, Jung Sung-Ryong, they’ve got a another steady pair of hands.
Augsburg’s Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwan will be the centre-backs for South Korea while Park Joo-Ho and veteran Cha Du-Ri will be the marauding wing-backs.
They’ve got abundance of talent in midfield! Ki, Kim, Koo and Lee can be a menace of their day and Ki will be the calming presence in midfield as the 25-year-old might skipper the side this World Cup.
Maybe 36-year-old holding midfielder Kim Nam-Il might don the South Korea jersey for the last time in this World Cup. Son will be the targetman but he is capable of being the creative playmaker. Ji Dong-Won will be assisting the Bayer Leverkusen forward in attack.
They might not have their former talisman Park in their side but Hong is glad that some of his younger players are beginning to mature as players and work as team. If they stick as a team, they might join Belgium to the next round.
Algeria have qualified for four World Cups but in all of those editions, they didn’t do well. In 2010, Algeria didn’t qualify for the second round and performed badly in the group stages. This time, will they do well? I doubt so…
They’ve got talented individuals in their side but as a team, they don’t seem to gel well. North African countries are known to produce skilfull and pacy players and most of them do well in Ligue 1 and Serie A.
Under Bosnian coach Vahid Halihodzic, Algeria looks a disciplined side. Led by their committed skipper Madjid Bougherra, the Fennec Foxes will hope to do well in this group but they know the odds are against them.
Bougherra will marshall the defence together with Raffik Halliche who now plays for Portuguese club Academica. Faouzi Ghoulam and Djamel Mesbah will be the wing-backs as Halihodzic wil be relying on Ghoulam and Mesbah to provide crosses for his attackers.
Sofiane Feghouli, Ryan Boudebouz and Sapher Taider will share the creative responsibilities while Getafe’s Mehdi Lacen and up and coming Tottenham Hotspur youngster Nabil Bentaleb will be the central midfielders.
Raffik Djebbour and young striker Ishak Befodil will spearhead the attack. Their trickery and pace will cause problems for defences but inconsistency is something that they need work on.
Algeria is one of the best teams in Africa but when it comes to world football, they are nowhere near the top international teams. I doubt they can qualify to the next round!
Gone are the days of Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak. They used to be indomitable during their heydays but now, it has all changed.
Alan Dzagoev is now the face of Russian football. The 23-year-old CSKA Moscow winger will be the key player for Russia.
However, we shouldn’t discount the capabilities of the other Russian players. Capello is known for his player selections and if he will surely select the best.
In defence, I’m expecting veteran defender Sergei Ignashevich, CSKA’s twin towers Vasili Berezutski and Aleksei Berezutski and Dimitry Kombarow to be in the 23 man squad. Their physical presence and discipline will be key and Russia’s strength this tournament will be their backline. Igor Akinfeev will surely be the first choice goalkeeper.
In midfield, Roman Shirokov will captain the side and lead the midfield. His partner might be Viktor Fayzulin or Igor Denisov. Dynamo Moscow’s Denisov is lighting up the Russian league with his performances and Capello will surely rely on him to provide incisive passes for his wingers and strikers. Dzagoev and Yuri Zhirkov will be tricksters for Russia.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov will lead the attack together with young forward Aleksandr Kokorin. Most of the Russian lads are based in Russia and only one or two of them are playing in different leagues.
Capello is a strict tactician and he hopes to create an impression with this determined Russian side. He has got a good mix of experience and youth and Russia will surely give sides like Belgium and South Korea a tough time
Verdict: This is a very open group. Three sides - South Korea, Belgium and Russia can qualify for the next stage of the tournament.
It’s tough for me to predict but based on form and squad depth, I’m expecting South Korea and Belgium to qualify for the second round. Russia will give fight but It won’t be enough for them!