Tuesday, June 17, 2014 12:12 pm
Not many nations at the 2014 World Cup boast of a squad like the Belgian one which brims with undoubted talent and has lofty expectations to live up to, as there has not been an assemble of such as the present squad in over a decade.
Coached by former midfielder Marc Wilmots, Belgium have the advantage of not overly relying on one or two players to be in peak form for the World Cup to maintain their tag as favourites to win Group H.
If striker Christian Benteke is unavailable due to injury, Belgium have Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens to deploy upfront. If Eden Hazard becomes unavailable for a reason, Kevin de Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Kevin Mirallas can be called upon.
Same goes for a midfield which comprises Moussa Dembele, Steven Defour and Marouane Fellaini who thrives with national team despite an underwhelming first season at Manchester United, as well as youngster Adnan Januzaj and Lille’s Divock Origi.
Crucially, Belgium have good defenders as well, with Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany leading the likes of Bayern Munich’s Daniel van Buyten, Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen, Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen and Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld. Not to forget goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois and Simon Mignolet.
Only problem for Belgium’s talented squad could be their World Cup inexperience, with all but one (van Buyten) of the players set to take part in their first major championship, as the 2002 World Cup was Belgium’s last appearance at a major competition with coach Wilmots scoring Belgium’s last group stage goal then before losing to eventual champions Brazil in the second round.
Against Russia, South Korea and Algeria however, Belgium come up against group opponents they can overcome to reach the second round, from where it will get much tougher for the Europeans.
However far or otherwise Belgium go, the 2014 World Cup will mark the start of an era the Red Devils will rank among the prominent football nations in Europe.
Russia on their part head to Brazil with a squad picked solely from the Russian Premier League by coach Fabio Capello, who also left out Roman Pavluchenko, Andrey Arshavin and Pavel Progrebnyak from the final squad while captain Roman Shirokov had to be withdrawn after picking up an injury.
Still, Capello has the likes of midfielders Alan Dzagoev, Yury Zhirkov and Igor Denisov, strikers Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Alexandr Kokorin as well as goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to rely on to lead his team at the mundial.
The current Russian team play as well as a typical Capello team would, with much discipline and aiming to get the best result possible, dependent on the strength of the opposition.
And all the players being from one league goes some way in fostering team cohesion, since the players know each other well enough. Reaching the World Cup ahead of Portugal in qualification also makes Russia one to reckon with in Group H at least.
Algeria and South Korea however edged their way into the 2014 World Cup, with Algeria beating Burkina Faso courtesy of away goals in the final round of qualifying in Africa while South Korea finished two points behind Iran and just ahead of Uzbekistan on goal difference.
Since then, Algeria have shown some improvement in team play on their way to wins over Slovenia, Armenia and most recently Romania, with coach Vahid Halihodzic cautiously confident his Algerian players can put up a commendable display in Brazil.
On the contrary, South Korea have not enjoyed a good run of games to prepare for a tough group, losing 1-0 to Tunisia in their most recent friendly match on Wednesday having also lost 2-1 to group opponents Russia in another friendly encounter late last year.
The Korean squad appear to be the weakest of the four nations in Group H and it would be an achievement if they manage to make it out of the group stages.
Main Players to Watch
Though filled with a slew of established professionals, Eden Hazard remains Belgium’s brightest prospect at the World Cup following a stellar individual season at Premier League club Chelsea.
Also, on-loan Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is touted as one to become a great and an assured display as Belgium’s last man in defence would go a long way in affirming that potential.
There is also on-loan Everton striker Romelu Lukaku who has much to prove, at least to potential suitors if not to his parent club Chelsea, where Diego Costa’s immiment arrival would leave him playing second fiddle at Stamford Bridge yet again.
Playmaker Alan Dzagoev, who turns 24 today, would be Russia’s main man in Brazil after being instrumental in CSKA Moscow dramatically edging Zenit St. Petersburg to the Russian league title.
For Algeria, eyes will be on powerful midfielder Nabil Bentaleb to inspire the north Africans in Brazil. Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli will also be crucial in Algeria’s campaign after helping the Spanish club to the Europa League semi-final last season.
South Korea would hope Ki Seung-yueng and Son Heung-min replicate their form from their respective clubs at the World Cup, with Ki helping Sunderland escape relegation and reach the Capital One Cup final with a number of crucial goals while Son played an integral part in Bayer Leverkusen finishing fourth in the Bundesliga and earn a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot.
Belgium are expected to finish as group winners and they likely would deliver. Russia look odds on to go into the second round with Belgium but Algerian football is on an ascendency and they could pull enough of an upset to make the second round.