World Cup Preview: Will Belgium Prove Itself For Real in Group H?

Belgium's Axel Witsel, center, and Eden Hazard, right, congratulate Guillaume Gillet, left, after he scored against Croatia, during their World Cup 2014 Group A qualifying soccer match in Brussels, at the King Baudouin stadium, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012.

This is the eight post in a series previewing the World Cup's eight groups. Read Group A,Group BGroup CGroup DGroup EGroup F and Group G to get fully up to speed.

The 2014 World Cup's Group H is headlined by Belgium, a tiny country currently enjoying a special generation of talent. In a group that lacks any other prime contenders, the Red Devils will have to watch out for upset-minded challengers intent on entering the tournament's knockout stage in high style.
But who are this group's biggest stars? Who has the best chance off shocking Belgium? Who will move on, and who will head home early?
All that (and more!) shall be revealed right here in our 10-minute guide to Group H.

The teams (FIFA world ranking in parenthesis)

  1. Belgium (12)
  2. Russia (18)
  3. Algeria (25)
  4. South Korea (55)

The landscape

Alan Dzagoev, Aleksandr Anyukov, Sergio Moreno

Russia's Aleksandr Anyukov, left, and Alan Dzagoev, center, battle for a ball with Andorra's Sergio Moreno during their Euro 2012 Group B qualifying soccer match in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011.
Making its first World Cup appearance since 2002, Belgium is led by a prodigiously talented crew of young players. In fact, they've been mentioned so many times as a 2014 dark-horse contender over the past several months that the label may no longer apply.
To make it to the knockout stage, the Red Devils will have to get through a trio of teams that — on paper, at least — they should have no trouble with. Russia is coached by Italian manager Fabio Capello and led by CSKA Moscow offensive threat Alan Dzagoev. Algeria has never advanced past the World Cup's group stage and lacks a true star, but looks much improved from the squad that didn't score a goal at the 2010 tournament. South Korea is a speedy, fun-to-watch team — but not one that always gets its desired results.

The schedule (all times in ET)

  • Belgium versus Algeria, June 17, Belo Horizonte, 12 p.m.
  • Russia versus South Korea, June 17, Cuiaba, 6 p.m.
  • Belgium versus Russia, June 22, Rio de Janeiro, 12 p.m.
  • South Korea versus Algeria, June 22, Porto Alegre, 3 p.m.
  • South Korea versus Belgium, June 26, Sao Paulo, 4 p.m.
  • Algeria versus Russia, June 26, Curitiba, 4 p.m.

4 players to watch

Eden Hazard (Belgium): The 23-year-old Chelsea attacker is one of the world's best young players. Hazard is not a big guy, but he's fast, skilled and has a knack for producing jaw-dropping highlights.

Alan Dzagoev (Russia): Dzagoev is another 23-year-old talent who will have to do big things in Brazil if his squad is to make any noise. He debuted for the Russian national team at just 18 years old and was among the Euro 2012 tournament's leading goal scorers.

Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria): Feghouli plays in the top-flight Spanish league for Valencia, where he's done well. He was born in Paris and chose to play for Algeria over France, despite having compete for Les Bleus at the under-21 level. His talent's not in doubt — but can he carry this Algerian squad to its first knockout stage appearance?

Ki Sung-yeung (South Korea): Ki pulls the strings as a central midfielder, both for Premier League club Sunderland and the South Korean national team. If South Korea's speedy strikers can find the net in Brazil, it will likely be thanks to Ki's skillful set-ups.

The prediction

Belgium will live up to its hype here and move on to the knockout stage, where we'll finally see what the Red Devils are really made of. Algeria will finally score a goal after being shut out in 2010, but not enough to get out of the group. South Korea will similarly acquit itself well, but ultimately Russia will join Belgium in the knockout stage.

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