Expectations: part eight
Here is my eighth part:
Group H: Belgium
Strengths: Twelve years after their last World Cup appearance, Belgium played an incredibly strong qualification where the squad won eight out of ten games. Belgium's current squad includes many excellent young players and the future looks bright for the team. Many experts even consider that the team could become the World Cup's greatest surprise and some people even bet their money on a surprise World Cup win by the Belgian side. Les Diables Rouges can in fact count on several world class players like goalkeeper Thibaut Curtois (Atlético Madrid), defenders Vincent Kompany (Manchester City F.C.) and Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal F.C.), midfielders Kevin De Bruyne (VfL Wolfsburg) and Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United F.C.) and strikers Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku (both from Chelsea F.C.).
Weak points: The young Belgian squad has never experienced an international competition so far as Belgium went through some years of changes. This lack of experience as well as the warm weather could be factors that might irritate the young squad. Another slight disadvantage is the injury of striker Christian Benteke (Aston Villa F.C.) who had scored six goals in eighteen caps.
Expectations: Belgium won't win the 2014 FIFA World Cup but their style of play will convince the masses and they should easily make it to the play-offs in this group. On the other side, I would be surprised if they went further than the round of 16 or quarter finals at best.
Belgium's squad from June 1, 2014 against Sweden (copyright: Fox News)
Group H: Algeria
Strengths: Algeria has a squad including a couple of interesting players that are currently performing in Europe's top clubs like defender Madjid Bougherra (S.S.C. Napoli), midfielders Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham Hotspur F.C.), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia CF) and Saphir Taïder (Internazionale Milan) as well as strikers Nabil Ghilas (F.C. Porto) and Islam Slimani (Sporting Clube de Portugal). In addition to this, the squad seems to be on form right now as Algeria has won all three exhibition games this year against Armenia, Romania and Slovenia.
Weak points: Algeria only qualified in a very lucky way for the tournament when they won their home game with 1:0 against Burkina Faso after a 2:3 defeat in the away game. Among the African teams that take part in this year's World Cup, Algeria looks like the least menacing one on paper. Historically, Algeria never survived the group stage in three World Cup appearences so far.
Expectations: Algeria's squad is too weak to survive the group stage this year.
Algeria's squad on November 19, 2013 against Burkina Faso (copyright: Associated Press / Anis Belghoul)
Group H: Russia
Strengths: Russia played a surprisingly solid qualification and won its group in front of Portugal with seven victories, one draw and only two losses in ten games. The defense was very disciplined and conceeded only five goals in these games. Since the qualification, Russia didn't lose any exhibition game with four victories and two draws. Russia even played against South Korea in November 2013 and won with 2:1 against the Asian team. The players all know each other well as all 23 of them are currently playing in the domestic Russian Premier League.
Weak points: This leads us to the weak points as well. None of the players in the squad is active in one of Europe's top leagues and those who tried over the last years failed quickly. The current squad even includes a player from FC Anzhi Makhachkala, an overambitious team owned by a multi-millionaire that failed terribly after a short rise and was relegated after a horrible season. On an international level, the Russian squad is not among the most experienced ones either. Nine out of twenty-three players didn't even play ten caps for their country. The team seems to be in acomplicated transitional process as most of the heroes of the 2008 European Championship have retired and some new blood is taking its place in the squad. Right now in 2014, the Russian squad doesn't seem to be ready for a surprising performance in a big international tournament yet.
Expectations: The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is more like a preparation for Russia's own 2018 World Cup. The team is there to live some new experiences but the squad isn't strong enough to impress anybody in this tournament. The team will probably get eliminated right in the beginning of the tournament at group stage.
Russia's squad on June 6, 2014 against Morocco (copyright: Reuters)
Group H: South Korea
Strengths: The Red Devils have a strong team spirit, a lot of tactical discipline and are known as a team that never gives up and always fights until the end. The current squad includes many young talents that are already playing in some of Europe's top leagues and especially in Germany like defender Hong Jeong-Ho (FC Augsburg) and Park Joo-Ho (1. FSV Mainz 05), midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol (1. FSV Mainz 05) and strikers Son Heung-Min (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) and Ji Dong-Won (FC Augsburg). Only one player in this dyanmical and light-footed squad is in fact older than twenty-nine: defender Kwak Tae-Hwi (Al-Hilal FC) who is thirty-two years old.
Weak points: The Taegeuk Warriors had a streak of rather weak exhibition games over the last twelve months. Out of thirteen games, they won only five, got one draw and lost seven games including the last two. Many young players are still lacking experience. Ten out of twenty-three players have earned less than fifteen caps for their national football team so far.
Expectations: Thanks to their great discipline and the rise of a few internationally successful and technically skilled players, South Korea's new soccer generation should make it to the play-offs. My guess is that they will make it to the quarter finals before they are going to meet a team that is too strong to beat.
South Korean soccer squad on May 28, 2014 against Tunisia (copyright: Reuters)