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FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Group H

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A Winter's Tale

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The final group is also an interesting one where again nothing is guaranteed but there are high expectations for Belgium who have a highly talented young squad with some top players but they haven't been at a World Cup since 2002 so it will be interesting to see whether the hype comes to fruition. At the moment, I suspect they should finish top and they'll be one of the teams no one will want to meet in knock-out stage. It's difficult to separate the other teams - all of whom could cause Belgium problems - and they should all stand a chance of taking points of each other. You'd expect Russia to go through but their performances at major tournaments seem to see-saw. I think they could miss out but if they do go through, then perhaps they could be dark horses. South Korea can be an impressive and difficult team to beat but again I can't say I know enough about them and how they compare to recent years but I think they could perform well and find a way into the last 16. Some people expect Algeria to be the whipping boys, but I suspect that they will be one of the most difficult of the African teams to play against as they do seem to have enough about them in terms of defence and physicality. They could be a surprise but I expect them to finish bottom.

Belgium are at their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup and since then, Belgium have developed a fantastic approach to developing young footballers and the results have paid off. It probably is too much to ask of a young and inexperienced side to go really far in this World Cup - despite all of the big names and quality of the Belgian grassroots football - it will be a real challenge to play to their expectations in a major international tournament and both the individuals and the team lack experience and know-how in this sense. But no matter if this Belgium teams fails to gel and underachieves or impresses and end up in the business end of the World Cup, this group will learn a lot about how to play football at this level and certainly Belgium will be a greater force to reckon with in future competitions. They should finish top of this group but it's difficult to tell how well they'll deal with their tough opponents with a very defensive and hard-to-beat Algeria side, a technically adept Russia side and South Korea could be a handful aswell. If the pressure is on and they fail to cope with it, they could disappoint but if they pass that test, then Belgium could be a real force in the knock-out stage and could justify the reason why they are the dark horse of the World Cup. Their squad of high profile players include: 11 from England (3 from Tottenham, 2 from Manchester United, Everton, 1 from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City); 3 from Belgium (Standard Liege, Anderlecht and Zulte Waregem); 2 from Spain (Athletico Madrid), Germany (Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg), Russia (Zenit); 1 from Portugal (Porto), Italy (Napoli) and France (Lille). Belgium should be a side that's comfortable with possession but they are most dangerous when they hit teams on the counter-attack. I was at Hampden Park to Belgium win 2-0 against Scotland in September and they looked incredibly potent when on the break. Their talisman is Eden hazard but their other top players such as captain Vincent kompany and goalkeeper thibaut courtouis. Axel witsel in midfield will add protection to the defence. Belgium are strongest in the attacking wide areas with options such as kevin de bruyne, dries mertens, Kevin mirallas and adnan Januzaj. There are not many weak points but perhaps Lukaku upfront could struggle to score a lot of goals - he carries a lot of responsibility after benteke's injury - and perhaps there are no natural full-backs.

12 years after reaching the semi-finals, South Korea haven't got close to reaching the same heights and I would think in Brazil it will be last 16 at best. In a very competitive group, korea do have a chance of getting the better of their opponents with their attacking approach. Defence will be an issue whilst their strongest area is the three players playing behind the striker with the right-sided winger Lee Chung-young probably being their most skilful player. Their squad is made up of: 6 from South Korea (3 from Ulsan Hyundai, 1 from busan Ipark, suwon bluewings and sangu sangmu); 5 from Germany (2 from Augsburg and Mainz and 1 from bayer Leverkusen); 4 from England (Bolton, Sunderland, Watford and qpr); 3 from china (Beijing Guoan, Guangzhou R&F and Guangzhou evergrande), Japan (2 from kashiwa reysol, sanfrecce Hiroshima) and 1 from Saudi Arabia (al-hilal).

Russia are the only side in the World Cup to have all their players based in their country: 6 from dynamo Moscow, 5 from cska Moscow, 4 from zenit, 3 from Rubin Kazan, 2 from spartak Moscow, 1 from terek Grozny, lokomotiv Moscow and anzhi mackhachkala. On paper Russia should finish second and they are tough team for any opponent to play against. But they are an ageing side playing at their first World Cup in 12 years. I think Belgium will be too strong, South Korea I think will just edge them and they could struggle against Algeria. Russia's experienced defence will be hard to break down but their weakness is a lack of firepower up front. This will be their Achilles heel and will result in Russia struggling to reach the last 16.

Algeria are the highest ranked African side at the World Cup and are an incredibly difficult team to beat. In the last World Cup they only conceded twice and held England to a goalless draw. They shouldn't be the whipping boys and could surprise and reach the last 16. All if the other teams will struggle to beat them. Their fairly young squad is made up of: 4 from Italy (Inter, Napoli, Udinese, Livorno), Spain (Valencia, Getafe, Granada and Mallorca); 3 from England (Tottenham, Watford, Leicester), France (Reims, Ajaccia and Valenciennes), Portugal (Porto, Sporting and Academica); 2 from Algeria 2 from Algeria (CS Constantine, USM Alger); 1 from Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb), Qatar (Lekhwiya), Tunisia (Club Africain) and Bulgaria (CSKA Sofia). Aswell as being solid defensively, Algeria might have more about them going forward with Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia being an important player. Probably all the teams in Group H will struggle to beat Algeria, and the last 16 isn't improbable, but perhaps a lack of creativity and goals might prevent them from getting many points.

Key games:

Russia v South Korea, 17th June - 11pm: A key game in determining the fortunes of two teams vying for a place in the last 16.

Belgium v Russia, 22nd June - 5pm: Potential battle for first place in Group H.

Predictions:

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Group H:[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Belgium[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Algeria, 17[sup]th[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Russia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-2 South Korea, 17[sup]th[/sup] June @ 11pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Belgium[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-0 Russia, 22[sup]nd[/sup] June @ 5pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]South Korea[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 2-1 Algeria, 22[sup]nd[/sup] June @ 8pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Algeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0-1 Russia, 26[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]South Korea[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 1-1 Belgium, 26[sup]th[/sup] June @ 9pm[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Belgium[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 7pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]South Korea[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 5pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Russia[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 4pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2]Algeria[/size][/background][/font][/color][color=rgb(40,40,40)][font=calibri][background=rgb(248,241,243)][size=2] 0pts[/size][/background][/font][/color]
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