Group H Preview, Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea

 

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

Match No. Fixture Date Time  Location
15 Belgium v Algeria June 17 17:00 Belo Horizonte
16 Russia v South Korea June 18 23:00 Cuiaba
31 Belgium v Russia June 22 17:00 Rio de Janiero
32 South Korea v Algeria June 23 20:00 Porto Alegre
47 South Korea v Belgium June 27 21:00 Sao Paolo
48 Algeria v Russia June 28 21:00 Curitiba

Venues

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.

 

Stadium Guide
Stadium (City) Capacity Altitude
Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte 58,259 800 m
Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba 39,859 165 m
Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janiero 74,689 Sea-level
Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre 42,991 47 m
Arena Corinthians, Sao Paolo 61,606 742 m
Arena de Baixada 38,533 920 m

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.

Team Guide

Belgium

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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.

 

Russia

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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.

 

Algeria

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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

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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.

Key Fixtures

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.


Predictions

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.

 
Country P W D L Points
Belgium 3 3 0 0 9
Russia 3 2 0 1 6
Algeria 3 1 0 2 3
South Korea 3 0 0 3 0

Summary

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.

South Korea Team Preview

The Players

Jung Sung-ryong goalkeeper, Suwon Bluewings

Kim Chang-soo defender, Kashiwa Reysol

Yun Suk-young defender, Queens Park Rangers

Kwak Tae-hwi defender, al-Hilal

Kim Young-gwon defender, Guangzhou Evergrande

Hwang Seok-ho defender, Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Kim Bo-kyung midfielder, Cardiff City

Ha Dae-sung midfielder, Beijing Guoan

Son Heung-min forward, Bayer Leverkusen

10 Park Chu-young forward, Watford

11 Lee Keun-ho forward, Sangju Sangmu

12 Lee Yong defender, Ulsan Hyundai

13 Koo Ja-cheol (captain) midfielder, Mainz

14 Han Kook-young midfielder, Kashiwa Reysol

15 Park Jong-woo midfielder, Guangzhou R&F

16 Ki Sung-yueng midfielder, Sunderland

17 Lee Chung-yong midfielder, Bolton Wanderers

18 Kim Shin-wook forward, Ulsan Hyundai

19 Ji Dong-won forward, Augsburg

20 Hong Jeong-ho defender, Augsburg

21 Kim Seung-gyu goalkeeper, Ulsan Hyundai

22 Park Joo-ho defender, Mainz

23 Lee Bum-young goalkeeper, Busan I’Park

Star man

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The forward Son Heung-min turns 22 on the day of the first semi-final and if South Korea are to have any chance of getting there he will have to reproduce the form he showed this season for Bayer Leverkusen. Fast, shrewd and with a ferocious shot off either foot, Son is the Korean most likely to have commentators cooing.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace

Ki Sung-yueng shocked supporters during the qualifiers when he took to Facebook to complain about “nagging” by the then-manager Choi Kang-hee. Ki professed to being surprised that his quip – “he better not show his face. Watch out!” – was construed a threat.

The coach

Hong Myung-bo, their most capped player with 136 appearances, succeeded Choi Kang-hee, who resigned in shame in June after the lacklustre qualification campaign. Hong led the Olympic side to bronze at London 2012, knocking out Team GB on penalties with a little help from Daniel Sturridge’s miss.

Grudge match

A meeting with Italy or Spain will inevitably arouse memories of the 2002 controversies, while an improbable clash with Iran would reawaken the bitter rivalry that broke out during the qualification campaign for this tournament. South Korea lost to them twice in a blizzard of irate coaches, punched goalkeepers and public pledges to “make life painful” for each other, with South Korea’s captain promising but failing most emphatically to make his opposite number “shed tears of blood”.

Holed up

Foz do Iguaçu is not only “one of Fifa’s official tourist destinations” but also temporary home to the South Koreans, who popped over for a training trip in January and found the famous waterfalls “gave the team good energy”. Their hotel, the Bourbon Resort, states that its mission is to “satisfy customers … and generate profit” and that is just the sort of disarming honesty with which South Korea like to play.

How they qualified
Second behind Iran to whom they lost home and away in their group and could only manage draws in Lebanon and Uzbekistan, qualifying automatically at the latter’s expense on goal difference.

World Cup high
Carried to fourth place in 2002 by astonishingly fervent home support and some astoundingly dubious refereeing during their victories over Italy and Spain.

World Cup low
In 1954 Hungary defeated them 9-0 and Turkey 7-0, the second drubbing the more ignominious given West Germany thrashed the Turks 7-2.

Familiar faces
Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Ki Sung-yeung (Sunderland), Yun Suk-young (QPR), Park Chu-young (Arsenal).

Title odds: 250/1

The stereotype is …
Well-drilled running machines who will hound teams to distraction before launching sneaky counter-attacks and winning with the help of indulgent referees.

The reality is …
Technically adept side with plenty of midfield flair but rubbish forwards and a dodgy keeper in Jung Sung-ryung. Since changing manager last year the Taegeuk Warriors (Taegeuk is the symbol in the middle of the South Korea flag and translates literally as “large eternity”) have usually lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and sought to exploit their speed and technique on the counter. Kim Shin-wook spearheads the attack but Son carries a potent threat from slightly deeper. There are worries at the back, especially in goal, where none of the contenders have been in good form.

What they’re known for?
Gangnam Style 44 per cent
Screeching fans 27 per cent
Unusual delicacies 18 per cent
38th parallel 9 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
The vast autumn sky is without clouds but the bright moon in the first-generation is single-minded in our hearts.

Duration
One minute and one second for the inappropriate and immature to shout out: “Hey, sexy lady, Op, op, op, op!”

How to dress like their fans

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Red and blue Taeguks face-painted on to cheeks, red shirts, pockets full of Lockets for the inevitable sore throats from all the screaming.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Sales of male make-up in South Korea account for £900m of the cosmetics market. Twenty per cent of men use foundation cream.

Algeria Team Review

The Players

Cédric Si Mohamed goalkeeper, CS Constantine

Madjid Bougherra (captain) defender, Lekhwiya

Faouzi Ghoulam defender, Napoli

Essaid Belkalem defender, Watford

Rafik Halliche defender, Académica

Djamel Mesbah defender, Livorno

Hassan Yebda midfielder, Udinese

Medhi Lacen midfielder, Getafe

Nabil Ghilas forward, Porto

10 Sofiane Feghouli midfielder, Valencia

11 Yacine Brahimi midfielder, Granada

12 Carl Medjani defender, Valenciennes

13 Islam Slimani forward, Sporting

14 Nabil Bentaleb midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

15 El Arbi Hillel Soudani forward, Dinamo Zagreb

16 Mohamed Zemmamouche goalkeeper, USM Alger

17 Liassine Cadamuro-Bentaïba defender, Mallorca

18 Abdelmoumene Djabou midfielder, Club Africain

19 Saphir Taider midfielder, Internazionale

20 Aissa Mandi defender, Reims

21 Riyad Mahrez midfielder, Leicester City

22 Mehdi Mostefa midfielder, Ajaccio

23 Rais M’Bolhi goalkeeper, CSKA Sofia

Star man

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A former France youth international whose speed makes him a natural winger, Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli has usually been deployed centrally by Algeria since pledging his international allegiance to the country in 2011. Critics insist he should score more often but his many admirers point to the number of chances that he creates for team-mates thanks to an immaculate first touch, excellent passing and knack for producing the unpredictable. Manage to stifle him and opponents will have gone a long way to neutralising Algeria.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace

Like a careless housekeeper, Hilal Soudani has been known to lose his rag: when he played for Guimarães in Portgual he was sent off for treading on the hand of an opponent, who got up and exacted revenge with a headbutt, and in this season’s Champions League the striker, who is now on the books of Dinamo Zagreb, was sent off against Austria Vienna for berating the referee from the substitute’s bench.

The coach

Vahid Halilhodzic guided Ivory Coast to 2010 finals but was sacked four months before tournament. Wounded in 1992 Bosnian War so has sense of perspective about the manager’s lot.

Grudge match

Meeting France, the country with which Algeria fought a ferocious war of independence, would be sure to arouse passions. The only meeting between the countries, a 2001 friendly in Paris, was abandoned owing to crowd trouble.

Holed up

Sorocaba is the eighth largest city in the state of São Paulo and was once known as “Manchester Paulista” because of the number of English-owned textile factories there. The country’s media have expressed concern about the state of the road serving the team’s residence, the Pitangueiras Farm Hotel, but if coaches can’t handle it there are always alternatives – it is a former horse ranch, and there is still a well-stocked stable. Plus, if there aren’t enough horses to go round, the squad may already contain a few donkeys. There are extreme sports available, including a zip wire and hot-air ballooning.

How they qualified
Rock solid home form saw them top qualifying group with some ease, but only scraped through a play-off on away goals (3-3) against unfancied Burkina Faso.

World Cup high
Beating West Germany 2-1 in Spain ’82… but eliminated by stitch-up when Germans and Austria signed non-aggression pact in final group game.

World Cup low
Managing only a disappointing 0-0 draw against South Africa 2010 no-hopers England, in group stage.

Familiar faces
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham),

Title odds
1,000/1

The stereotype is …
Proud tradition of existential goalkeepers, highly excitable and volatile fans, lots of blokes with similar names.

The reality is …
Decent defensive unit, manager clear-out has got rid of coasting old timers, some talented forwards.

For Algeria’s fourth finals they have set themselves the target of progressing beyond the group stages for the first time.  Halilhodzic is partial to a 4-1-4-1 formation, even more so since the France-born Nabil Bentaleb declared for Algeria, with the Tottenham Hotspur player immediately entrusted with providing midfield protection for a brittle defence marshalled by the creaking Bougherra. Two rapid wingers and the more central Feghouli are the men most likely to create chances for Slimani.

What are they known for?
Camus 8 per cent
Couscous 7 per cent
Camels 5 per cent
Chaffing sand 80 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
O France! 
Past is the time of palavers. 
We closed it as we close a book,
 O France!

Duration
Full version can go on for a Frenchman-baiting five minutes and four seconds.

How to dress like their fans

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Wear green, paint face: supporters of the Desert Foxes seem especially keen on the greasepaint. Favourite chant is “One, two, three, viva Algerie!”

Commentator’s go-to stat
80 per cent of the country is covered by desert. This is their fourth World Cup appearance.

Russia Team Preview

The Players

Igor Akinfeev goalkeeper, CSKA Moscow

Aleksei Kozlov defender, Dynamo Moscow

Georgi Shchennikov defender, CSKA Moscow

Sergei Ignashevich defender, CSKA Moscow

Andrei Semyonov defender, Terek Grozny

Maksim Kanunnikov forward, Rubin Kazan

Igor Denisov midfielder, Dynamo Moscow

Denis Glushakov midfielder, Spartak Moscow

Aleksandr Kokorin forward, Dynamo Moscow

10 Alan Dzagoev midfielder, CSKA Moscow

11 Aleksandr Kerzhakov forward, Zenit St Petersburg

12 Yuri Lodygin goalkeeper, Zenit St Petersburg

13 Vladimir Granat defender, Dynamo Moscow

14 Vasili Berezutski defender, CSKA Moscow

15 Roman Shirokov (captain) midfielder, Krasnodar

16 Sergey Ryzhikov goalkeeper, Rubin Kazan

17 Oleg Shatov midfielder, Zenit St Petersburg

18 Yuri Zhirkov forward, Dynamo Moscow

19 Aleksandr Samedov forward, Lokomotiv Moscow

20 Viktor Fayzulin midfielder, Zenit St Petersburg

21 Aleksei Ionov forward, Dynamo Moscow

22 Andrey Yeshchenko defender, Anzhi Makhachkala

23 Dmitri Kombarov defender, Spartak Moscow

Star man

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Alan Dzagoev briefly illuminated Euro 2012 with his clever running, good feet and fine finishing. Plays on the right of midfield for Capello where his workaholism and pace are used in the manager’s typically efficient system.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
No one. This is a strict regime and the players on national duty are not rebellious. The only hope for discord is if Capello tries on his Stuart Pearce-baiting style argy bargy with one of his band of assistants.

The coach

Perhaps it was Fabio Capello’s Russophile taste in art – Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall are among those whose daubings adorn his walls – that earned him the job of Russia manager. Perhaps it was the five Serie A titles he has amassed as a coach, or the two championships to which he led Real Madrid. Almost certainly it was not the performances of the England team the Fraggle-faced tactician coaxed to such a peak of underwhelmingness in South Africa in 2010.

Grudge match

A rivalry with Poland started 400 years ago and, aided by the odd war and occasional occupation, is still gathering pace, with violence and ribald nationalism puckering Russia’s Polish sojourn in Euro 2012, capped by 183 arrests on the day the two teams drew in Group A. Their most familiar foes are Belgium, who the Soviets faced in 1970, 1982 and 1986 and Russia played in 2002 – the last two games were both lost 3-2, and only the first was won.

Holed up

Germany had been expected to make it their base but when they decided to go elsewhere Russia gladly stepped in. Their training centre at the Estádio Novelli Júnior is almost finished after several delays, and the San Raphael Country Hotel is roaring to go, its Russian TV channels freshly connected.

How they qualified
Finished a point ahead of Portugal at the top of Group F having survived a brief attack of the vapours when losing to the runners-up in Lisbon and Northern Ireland in Belfast.

World Cup high
Fourth place as the USSR in 1966, having been defeated 2-1 by West Germany in the semi-final at Goodison Park but haven’t made it out of the group stages in two appearances as Mother Russia following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

World Cup low
Hopeless in 2002, they flattered to deceive with victory over Tunisia before Japan and Belgium shattered the illusion and showed them up as powder-puff and predictable.

Familiar faces
No one

Title odds
66-1

The stereotype is …
Joyless automatons boring the opposition to death through relentless pressing until striker with the build, complexion and naked disappointment of Rodney Trotter nicks one.

The reality is …
Organised, punishingly-fit and tactically-disciplined with a great goalkeeper in Igor Akinfeev and a centre-forward in Aleksandr Kerzhakov with the balance, control and shooting power to hurt most teams.

What they’re known for?
Pussy Riot 19 per cent
Owning London 32 per cent
Polonium 6 per cent
Three centuries of astonishing literature 43 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Ancestor-given wisdom of our people! Be glorious, our country, our pride!

Duration
Three minutes and 34sec to allow graduates of Trinity College, Cambridge, to substitute the new words for the “Party of Lenin!” version.

How to dress like their fans

Russian fans enjoy the atmosphere
Oligarch chic – £500,000 watches, no ties, pale blue shirts, stubble and the keys to your dreadnought-size yacht jingling in your bodyguard’s trousers.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Russia is the largest country in the world and Capello the highest-paid manager.

Belgium Team Preview

The Players

Thibaut Courtois goalkeeper, Atlético Madrid

Toby Alderweireld defender, Atlético Madrid

Thomas Vermaelen defender, Arsenal

Vincent Kompany (captain) defender, Manchester City

Jan Vertonghen defender, Tottenham Hotspur

Axel Witsel midfielder, Zenit Saint Petersburg

Kevin De Bruyne midfielder, Wolfsburg

Marouane Fellaini midfielder, Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku forward, Everton

10 Eden Hazard midfielder, Chelsea

11 Kevin Mirallas midfielder, Everton

12 Simon Mignolet goalkeeper, Liverpool

13 Sammy Bossut goalkeeper, Zulte Waregem

14 Dries Mertens forward, Napoli

15 Daniel Van Buyten defender, Bayern Munich

16 Steven Defour midfielder, Porto

17 Divock Origi forward, Lille

18 Nicolas Lombaerts defender, Zenit Saint Petersburg

19 Mousa Dembélé midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

20 Adnan Januzaj midfielder, Manchester United

21 Anthony Vanden Borre defender, Anderlecht

22 Nacer Chadli midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

23 Laurent Ciman defender, Standard Liège

Star man

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Eden Hazard is not the easiest player to manage at times – as José Mourinho will testify (forgotten passport before a Champions League tie at Schalke; catastrophic defensive gaffe against Atlético Madrid) – and not Belgium’s most influential player in qualifying (De Bruyne surpassed him with four goals and four assists) but the Chelsea playmaker is unquestionably the country’s talisman. Hopefully he’ll turn up at the airport to catch the flight to Brazil with his passport.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace

Marouane Fellaini. It’s those elbows. They’re dangerous, not in a Leonardo-on-Tab-Ramos-in-1994 sort of way, but nasty all the same. You certainly wouldn’t want to run into one of them, which is what Fellaini claimed Pablo Zabaleta did in March. “That’s the funniest thing I have ever heard in my life,” the Manchester City defender said.

The coach

Marc Wilmots, class act as an attacking midfielder and a person, is popular with his talented young group and getting the best out of them.

Grudge match

Neighbours Holland aren’t the worst of enemies – but they’re not best friends either. An epic Derby der Lage Landen/les Pays-Bas took place in 1985, when Belgium beat the Dutch in a World Cup play-off that featured some shameful play-acting from Franky Vercauteren, Ruud Gullit in tights and the late header that made Georges Grun a national hero.

Holed up

The Paradise Golf and Lake Resort, 50km from São Paulo, was persuaded by Wilmots to stock a lake with trout so that his squad can enjoy a spot of fishing to relax. “When I was a player, Belgium always seemed to be based in monasteries, and it was impossible to keep your sanity for a month,” said Wilmots, whose six-minute guided tour of the hotel and its grounds is available on YouTube.

How they qualified
Highly impressively, eight wins and no defeats, as they put Wales,Scotland, Croatia and Serbia to the sword in Group A.

World Cup high
Came fourth in Mexico 1986, beating the USSR and Spain in knockouts, losing to winners Argentina in the semis and France in the third-place play-off.

World Cup low
Disappointingly failed to qualify for 2006 and 2010 – but now have a generation to eclipse the good times of Enzo Scifo and company.

Familiar faces
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Nacer Chadli (Tottenham), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, on loan Everton), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City).

Title odds
16/1

The stereotype is …
Technical, boring, not especially good, tended to rely on one exciting player per team and surround him with water carriers.

The reality is …
Absolutely bursting with young talent, hard to know who to leave out. Still, look at how certain other ‘Golden Generations’ have done. Set up in a fluid 4-3-3, with the accomplished Axel Witsel anchoring midfield, Belgium will look to Kevin De Bruyne (former Chelsea) and Eden Hazard (Chelsea for now) to provide the craft and guile and Romelu Lukaku (on Chelsea’s books) the goals. So more a royal blue generation than a golden one.

What they’re known for
Frites 40 per cent
Beer 40 per cent
Absence of famous people 20 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Is available in about 27 languages, Google machine blew up translating German into Dutch and back into Walloon via French.

Duration
Better hope they only play one of the versions.

How to dress like their fans

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One of those skullcap helmets with the horns in red and yellow is a must. Bring a lot of red balloons.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Supporters filled the national stadium with 46,000 children’s drawings of national team players. Relations between fans and players are excellent.