Group H might not be the most enterprising group of the tournament, but it is certainly the most intriguing. Belgium are without a doubt, the standout team in this Group and would be expected to qualify as Group winners. But, who takes second spot is still open for debate. Russia look like the most plausible candidate, but they are known to be inconsistent. Although South Korea aren’t as good as they were in 2002, they still have some quality going forward. Algeria on the other hand, have a young, attacking and enterprising unit and are known for making it difficult for the big sides, which would make them a threat for anyone.
Group H Schedule
||Belgium v Algeria
||Russia v South Korea
||Belgium v Russia
||Rio de Janiero
||South Korea v Algeria
||South Korea v Belgium
||Algeria v Russia
All six encounters in Group H will be hosted by different cities – Belo Horizonte, Cuiaba, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo and Curitiba. Most of the games will be played in mild weather conditions, which is set to give the team going through a big advantage as the tournament progresses.
|Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
|Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
|Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janiero
|Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
|Arena Corinthians, Sao Paolo
|Arena de Baixada
Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Located in the third largest city in Brazil, it took three years and £185m to give the historic Estadio Mineirao its stunning brand-new look. Described by FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke as, the stadium will host a semi-final.
Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
One of the smallest stadiums, purpose-built for the World Cup, Arena Pantanal will host four group games. Situated in the western part of Brazil, the region experiences some scorching heat, so it is unlikely that any of the clashes are fast and furious.
Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
The historical Maracana, which could hold 200,000 people and played host to the 1950 FIFA World Cup, underwent major reconstruction prior to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. This new stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies, along with this year’s final.
Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Situated the furthest south of the host cities, Estadio Beira-Rio faces a frenetic finish to see if all the amenities inside the stadium can be completed on time. One of the coolest of all the 12 venues, it will play host four Group games and one second-round clash.
Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo
Situated on a plateau in the south-east, on the Atlantic coast, this is a high-altitude stadium and one that will be the new home to the famous Corinthians football club. The brand-new stadium will play host to the opening match of the tournament between Brazil and Croatia.
Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
The second-highest stadium in this year’s world cup, the stadium is located in one of Brazil’s coolest places, one which even saw snow fall this year. Home to Atletico Paranaense, this stadium was almost stripped off its World Cup hosting rights after a flurry of delays, but has now been given the green light to host four Group stage encounters.
Currently at 11, Belgium are the highest-ranked team in Group H and have also made the most appearances in the World Cups compared to their opponents. Six of the team’s overall 11 previous campaigns were part of a successive streak that started from 1982 and ended in 2002. The furthest Belgium have ever progressed was in the 1986 edition, where they finished their campaign in fourth place.
The Western Europe nation qualified for the 2014 World Cup after an impressive performance in their Uefa qualifiers, where they won eight of their ten matches, drew two and lost none to finish atop Group A. The current Belgian side has been dubbed the ‘new golden generation’ by the media, having achieved an all-time high fifth Fifa world ranking in October 2013.
Les Diables Rouges have players like Eden Hazard on the flank, who can make excellent scoring opportunities from that position. Their midfield will also be strong will Maruoanne Fellaini and Axel Witsel bringing experience from playing in the Champions League.
FIFA Ranking: 11
Key Player: Eden Hazard
For more information, read Belgium Team Preview.
In their nine appearances at the World Cup, Russia’s best result came in 1966 where they managed to reach the semi-finals. They did not fare badly in the 1958, 1962 and 1978 either (finishing their campaign at the quarter-finals stage), but went downhill thereafter. Sbornaya’s recent best result came in the Euro 2008, where they finished semi-finalists.
The hosts of the 2018 World Cup qualified for this year’s event from the top of their group after a 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan in their last game.
Arguably the second-best team in the group, they will be hoping to get into the second round, in which they will likely be facing Germany. While Capello will be looking to redeem himself in this World Cup, it is going to be incredibly difficult. Whether they finish first or second, they will have to beat either Germany or Portugal to go through, which looks highly unlikely, given the lack of talent at his disposal right now.
FIFA Ranking: 19
Key Player: Alan Dzagoev
For more information, read Russia Team Preview.
The highest-ranked team in Africa as of June 5, Algeria have played in the 1982, 1986 and 2010 Fifa World Cups but have never progressed further than the first round.
The current side will be looking to play for pride as much as for victory; the team was unable to score a single goal in their three games at the last World Cup, which included a goalless draw against England.
They have a talented but young bunch of players, some of whom ply their trade in Europe for some less-fancied sides. The likes of Sofiane Feghouli, Nabil Ghilas, Saphir Taider and Ishak Belfodil form a core group of players who will be key to their chances. The fact that they are the highest ranked African side in this World Cup shows that they are by no means a pushover. Renowned for pulling off some famous World Cup shocks, like West Germany in 1982 and England in 2010, Algeria will be looking to throw a spanner into the works of the other three sides, while at the same time hoping to finish second and go through to the Round of 16.
FIFA Ranking: 22
Key Player: Sofiane Feghouli
For more information, read Algeria Team Preview.
South Korea are one of the most successful teams in Asia, having participated in eight consecutive and nine overall Fifa World Cup editions — the highest number for any Asian team. Starting from 1954, this will be the 10th time that South Korea will appear in the mega event. Although they have failed to achieve a win in five of their World Cup outings, South Korea became the first and only Asian team to make it to the semi-final stages in 2002, when they co-hosted the event with Japan; their fourth-place finish is the team’s best result to date.
The team narrowly qualified for the 2014 World Cup by finishing second in their group via goal difference in the Asian Football Confederation qualification round. Their present head coach Hong-Myung Bo captained the team in its impressive 2002 show and is also the most-capped player (136) in the entire history of the nation’s football.
The Taeguek Warriors will need to ensure they are able to retain possession in midfield and bring their skilled attacking players into play. Both tasks will be primarily the responsibility of Sunderland loanee Ki Sung-yueng. Ki has enjoyed an excellent second season in the Premier League, acting as a major driving force for the Black Cats as they both reached the final of the League Cup and avoided what had seemed to be certain relegation.
FIFA Ranking: 57
Key Player: Son Heung-Min
For more information, read South Korea Team Preview.
Belgium vs Algeria: The group’s first game will tell us how good this Belgian outfit really is and whether they are worthy of their underdogs tag. It will tell if this Algeria are underdogs or just underrated.
Belgium vs Russia: The last time these two met was in the 2002 World Cup, where current Belgian Coach Marc Wilmots scored a winner. Should his side manage the same this time around, they will be guaranteed of top spot and will likely avoid Germany in the Round of 16.
The Belgians are without a doubt, the overwhelming favourites to claim top spot. Their strength and depth means that is very likely, thus making the scrap for second place something to watch out for. Russia look favourite to claim that spot, but both Algeria and South Korea will be looking to play spoil sports and register a famous victory over the Russians. But, the experience of Capello might just help Russia beat them both and claim second spot.
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure, whoever finishes in the top two are set to face some fierce competition in the Round of 16.
With their vast World Cup experience and line-up of some of the most productive European footballers – including Premier League champions Manchester City’s captain Vincent Kompany – Belgium seem to carry weight in Group H and may make it to the knockouts. However, Russia can pose a threat as they go into the World Cup with burning ambitions to do well before they host the 2018 edition.
South Korea gave their best performance on foreign soil in the 2010 World Cup, when they made it to the last-16 round, so they may make the higher-ranked teams struggle. Algeria seems the least threatening team of the group, having never progressed further than the initial group stages.