Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 World Cup Group H Preview

This group contains a team with a golden generation, a future World Cup host, and 2 teams that have consistently made the tournament, but not done much when they get there. Makes for an interesting mix, yes? Well, at least it should.

Belgium have everything you could want for a World Cup roster. Talent everywhere, especially loaded in midfield with a solid defense and world class keeper. So what's not to like? There are a couple of warts that may not be easy to spot, but could prove to be future problems. Without Christian Benteke, Belgium are really only 1 deep at striker, and while Romelu Lukaku has been setting the world alight for this past season, if he goes down or dips out of form, then the only one to replace him is young Divock Origi of Lille who is just 19. The midfield is exceptionally skilled with many players you'll know, but the one name in there that many have questioned is Adnan Januzaj, not just because of his dipping form at Manchester United, but also because of his supposed worth to the side, which Kevin Mirallas openly questioned. Could he be a distraction? And while the defense is strong, it is particularly one-sided. But to me, none of those things are the real issue for the Red Devils. It's big tournament experience. Most of these players have played on large stages for their clubs, and that's great, but major international tournaments are another animal entirely. No one on this team sans Daniel Van Buyten (aged 36) has played in a major senior tournament before, and you cannot replicate that for 22 other players. To be fair, Belgium are probably one major tournament away from really challenging for the title, and Euro 2016 next door in France is probably when we'll see this come good. In Brazil, they'll probably at least make it out of the group, but how far they go beyond that depends on how quickly this squad learns the ropes of the major tournament.

It's been since 2002 as well for Russia to be in the World Cup, but in the meantime they have competed in the Euros before. It's a team that is entirely based in Russia, and while that might be good for team unity and harmony, it might limit them on the stylistic things that they can do or the influences the team will have that many of the other good teams in this tournament. It's not particularly young, but has some interesting young players on it that could play a role. Fabio Capello is who you'll know from his time at major clubs and managing England, which should give you a clue as to how Russia will play in this tournament. That might be useful against Belgium, but will it be useful against Algeria and South Korea? That remains a question yet unanswered. It might also behoove Russia to do well here, as they are the hosts of the next World Cup and would not like to head into that on a sour note. Can they make it out of the group stage here? Certainly, but both other teams will give them troubles for sure.

Many in the United States will remember Algeria as the team Landon Donovan scored his great goal against, but that's not how one should look at this team. They should look at this team as one that may be on the rise. It's not the most supremely talented team in this tournament, but when the team has names like Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia, Saphir Taider of Inter, and Yacine Brahimi of Granada, maybe we should give them more credit. As is usual with African teams, the weak link comes on defense, but then again they held out impressively 4 years ago against a similar group of teams, and have always been stout there in qualifying and in African Cups of Nations. The issue will likely come in terms of putting the ball in the net, as Algeria were one of the two teams in South Africa that didn't score, and that may come difficult again. The team that is going to Brazil is far more experienced however, so that should help out with some of the jitters. And also selfishly, it's awesome to see Nabil Bentaleb fresh out of Spurs academy heading to the World Cup. Tim Sherwood did something right! Anyway, this team might not be a sexy pick to get out the group, but if they can solve some of the scoring problems with players like Ghilas and maybe some help from midfield, then they can certainly make it interesting.

Since finishing 4th in their own World Cup 12 years ago, South Korea has made the tournament each of the last 2, but has been eliminated rather quickly afterwords. It did make it to the KO stages in 2010 (somewhat by virtue of Greece and Nigeria being silly), and it was a quick exit after when they lost to Uruguay. It remains to be seen whether this team is better than that edition or not, but the early signs are no. It has a decent backbone of players from the Bundesliga and England, but it's not particularly impressive either. They had far more trouble in Asian qualifying than one might have expected too. It's also not particularly young, but there is past major tournament experience to rely on, which should be helpful. The group is not going to be helpful in terms of fixing some scoring woes, since the defenses for all of the teams they'll be facing are rock solid. They seem to be decent enough, but whether they can advance past the group and even the Round of 16 are questions that don't look like likely to bring positive answers.

Prediction: Belgium is the class of the group, and their problems might well be exploited later, and the fight for second is a fascinating one between 3 teams that have issues scoring goals. Next goal wins?

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