Finally, we’ve reached the final group preview! Unfortunately, it’s kind of a boring group. Apologies to waffles, my 8th grade spanish teacher Sra. Wolf, Vladimir Putin and Psy, but Belgium, Algeria, Russia and the South Korea, respectively, aren’t very exciting. However, I made a commitment to preview all eight groups, and I will stick to it for you fans. Here we go.
National Anthem: The Brabanconne
Coach: Marc Wilmots
Best Showing at A World Cup: Fourth place in 1986
If Belgium plays fútbol at all like they make waffles, beer and chocolate, then all the other teams should just go ahead and book their flights home right now, because it’s all over. The one thing you can say about the Belgian squad is that they’re extrememly physically strong. Not only that, but they feature some very versatile attackers that can give teams fits up front. That being said, a lot of their players don’t get a lot of playing time abroad, which might lead one to question their fitness and ability to play 90 minutes. Like many second tier teams, their defense is also questionable.
The key man for Belgium is forward Eden Hazard. The 23-year old Chelsea midfielder will be expected to run the offense, and might end up being one of this tournament’s breakout stars. Unfortunately, for Belgium, one of their top strikers, Christian Batenke, suffered an ACL injury and will miss the cup. That being said, Hazard will still have plenty of help up front from Romelu Lukaku, a 21-year old striker who played on Everton of the EPL this past season. Lukaku should be the number one scoring option for this Belgian squad, but watch out for Kevin De Bruyne too. Belgium’s owerful offense is one to be reckoned with, and will be the main reason they get however far they get.
National Anthem: Kassaman (also spelled Qassaman)
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Best Showing at A World Cup: Group stage – 1982, 1986 and 2010
Algeria has never made it out of the group stage, but they did have a memorable moment happen against them in the last game of 2010’s group stage. Landon Donovan scored a goal in stoppage time against the Algerians, which put the US atop their group and into the next stage. Good job, Algeria!
Algeria has gotten this far with defense, and defense alone. In 2010, they didn’t manage even one goal in the group stage, and they don’t have too many brand names up front to make 2014 any better. That being said, many people around the world, including famed Argentinian legend Diego Maradona, have noted that Algeria is much improved, and could surprise a lot of people in Brazil. If the offense is going to manage any goals, you can bet 24-year old Sofiane Feghouli, a midfielder who plays his club ball for Valencia in Spain, will have something to do with it. Feghouli has been often described as a physical beast. If he can control the ball and set up some plays, maybe the Algerians will get a win in this stage.
It’s probably not looking too good for them, though.
National Anthem: Gosudarstvenny Gimm Rossiyskoy Federatsii (courtesy of Rocky IV)
Coach: Fabio Capello
Best Showing at A World Cup: Fourth place in 1966 (Soviet Union)
Unfortunately for Russia, the decided not to take Ivan Drago or Soda Popinski to Brazil with them. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but there’s nothing they can do about it now because rosters are final. That being said, I think they’re still strong enough to make it out of the group stage in what is their first World Cup appearance since 2002. You see, unlike Drago and Popisnki, the Russians play excellent defense (seriously, how predictable were Popinski’s crouching lefts and rights?).
They actually finished first in their qualifying group on the backs of that strong defense, holding opponents to just 5 goals in 10 games. The guy who leads that strong defense is goaltender Igor Akinfeev, who happens to have won the 2013 Russian Premier League Player of the Year for CSKA Moscow, and is one of the most skilled net minders in the world. He’s joined in the backfield by Sergei Ignashevich, a stalwart of the Russian national and CSKA Moscow defensive units.
Everybody knows that you can’t win any goals without scoring, however, which is where 23 year old Alexander Kokorin, like almost the entire Russian squad, Kokorin plays his club ball in Russia. The young striker for Dynamo Moscow is considered by some to be the future of Russian fútbol, and he performed very well in qualifying, with 4 goals.
Korea Republic (aka South Korea)
National Anthem: Aegukga (“Patriotic Song”)
Coach: Hong Myung-Bo
Best Showing at A World Cup: Fourth place in 2002
There was a time when Asian teams were considered basiclaly the whipping boys of the rest of the World when it came to this tournament. In 2002, Japan and South Korea were co-hosts of the cup, and now both teams have vastly improved. South Korea has now made eight straight World Cup finals and have made it out of the group stage in two of the last three tournaments. They are clearly no longer the little brother that the rest of the world gets to bully around. That being said, this is a very tough group for them to make it out of.
The key player for South Korea is Park Chu-Young. The striker had been struggling to find playing time on Arsenal of the EPL, but was loaned out to Watford this past season and managed to get on the pitch on a regular basis. He led the team in scoring during the qualifying period with 6 goals, and he’ll need to keep that momentum going if South Korea is going to beat out Russia for that second spot. Their captain, Lee Chung-Yong is back for another World Cup. They’re going to need him to set up shots for Young and keep the ball flowing forwards. Also, watch out for 21-year old Heung-Min Son, who makes his bones in the German Bundesliga and recently was transferred for £8.5MM.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Belgium will win this group and advance to the round of 16. I also don’t think that Algeria is quite strong enough to beat out either South Korea or Russia, and they will finish last in this group. The other two, however, are a real tossup. I’d like to say that South Korea has the talent to make it to another round of 16, but I believe Russia will end up second when the dust settles–with or without Soda Popinski.
Featured image courtesy of: EFE/EPA/Julien Warnand
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