It is time to preview one last group for the World Cup.
How they got to
Belgium- First place finish in UEFA Group A
The chic dark horse pick cruised through group A en route to qualification. Currently ranked 11th in the FIFA rankings, Belgium is 68-24-31 all-time in the World Cup with a best finish of 4th in the 1986 World Cup
- First place finish in UEFA Group F.
Russia squeaked by Portugal to win Group F. Currently ranked 18th in the FIFA rankings, Russia is 2-0-4 all-time, but when counting their record as the Soviet Union, their all-time record is 17-6-14 in the World Cup with a best finish of 4th in 1966.
- 2nd place finish in Group A, 4th round AFC qualifying
South Korea avoided entering the playoff phase by 1 goal over Uzbekistan to qualify for their 8th consecutive World Cup (6th longest qualification streak). Currently 55th in the FIFA rankings, South Korea is 5-8-15 all-time in the World Cup with a best finish of 4th in 2002.
- Defeated Burkina Faso in the CAF third round 3-3 on aggregate (advanced on away goals)
After a fairly smooth 2nd round, the Algeria held on at home to win 1-0 against Burkina Faso. Currently 22nd in the FIFA rankings, Algeria is 2-2-5 all-time in the World Cup and have never advanced beyond the 1st round.
Schedule of Games
|June 17 | 12 PM||Belgium||Algeria||Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte|
|June 17 | 6 PM||Russia||South Korea||Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá|
|June 22 | 12 PM||Belgium||Russia||Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro|
|June 22 | 3 PM||Algeria||South Korea||Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre|
|June 26 | 4 PM||South Korea||Belgium||Arena Corinthians, São Paulo|
|June 26 | 4 PM||Algeria||Russia||Arena da Baixada, Curitiba|
Key Players in the Group
Aleksandr Kerzhakov, F, Russia - Kerzhakov has been prolific at Zenit St. Petersburg since returning to his first professional club and scored the winner for Russia against Portugal in qualifying. Despite a good scoring record for country, he'll be looking for his first goal in an international tournament in what will probably be his last chance to do so.
Eden Hazard, M, Belgium - Similar to Germany, it's hard to just pick one. With Belgium we'll go with the aptly named live wire Hazard. At the tender age of 23, he's already racked up 45 caps for the Red Devils. A threat with service, a speed option, and the smarts to unlock a defense, Hazard is an up and comer who has the potential to help Belgium make a deep run in this World Cup.
Madjid Bougherra, D, Algeria -Algeria have recruited well, and when you think about it, they're not far from advancing out of the group in South Africa. Boughuerra, born in France, and a veteran of the French, English, Scottish, and Qatari leagues, provides the leadership for what will be a predictably defensive unit. 4 points (a win against Russia and a draw against South Korea) could see the Fennec Foxes through the group, but it will fall to Bougherra to keep Algeria perfectly compact.
Koo Ja-cheol, M, South Korea -South Korea's record of success at the World Cup begins and ends with the tournament they hosted in 2002. The choice here is the captain. Korea Republic boasts a young club who were recently taught a lesson by Ghana. Koo enjoyed a strong season with Mainz in the Bundesliga, and a top shelf two-way performance by Koo will be the only way Korea Republic advances.
Game of the Group
Belgium vs Russia - I'm 99.9% sure this match determines who finishes 1st and who finishes 2nd. I'm rooting for whatever sets up a Drago v. Balboa match in the round of 16.
X-Factor in Group G
Realpolitik- the Russia national team has managed to become the synecdoche of imperialism these days at the expense of the Yanks and Old World Europe. In a land that still harbors resentment to United Fruit and European powers, it makes you wonder if Russia sits on the wrong side of the benefit of doubt going into the tournament. Will this give a fit South Korea team or an experienced Algeria team enough of an edge to advance?
Final thoughts and Predictions
I'm guilty of looking for an angle here, but there's little reason to expect anything but the favorites advancing. Sure, you can point to the extremely open opportunity that the Desert Eagles had before Landon Donovan made this guy tens of dollars via GoogleAds as a reason that they could have easily advanced in 2010, but realistically, it's a miracle versus an inexperienced miracle versus two teams that will advance. Belgium and Russia will advance, and I am crossing my fingers that it happens in such a way that the US and Russia meet in the Round of 16 because that would be awesome. So for the love of Al Michaels Sports Gods, make this happen. Please.