By RYAN TOLMICH
Heading into the 2014 World Cup, the Belgian National Team has been heralded as the “golden generation”, the dark horse and the sport’s future elite national side.
However, before they can join the likes of Italy, Spain, and Brazil, the Red Devils have to demonstrate their ability to perform on the game’s biggest stage.
That all starts at the upcoming World Cup, as the future finally becomes now for Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and co., who are odds-on favorites to emerge from Group H. The Belgians enter the World Cup with as much pure talent as any team in the tournament’s field, as the Red Devils have wave after wave of young players that have proven themselves as top class. However, for all of their ability, the Belgians are far from experienced, having never featured on anything close to the world stage.
Also in the group with the Belgians are a trio of sides that are sure to provide the necessary tests to battle sharpen the group favorites, as Algeria, Russia and South Korea have all performed admirable in recent tournaments. South Korea advanced to the knockout rounds in 2010, while Algeria nabbed a point off of England last time out before the now-famous Landon Donovan moment.
Here’s a closer look at Group H:
6/17 – Belgium vs. Algeria; 6/17 – Russia vs. South Korea; 6/22 – Belgium vs. Russia; 6/22 – South Korea vs. Algeria; 6/26 – South Korea vs. Belgium; 6/26 – Algeria vs. Russia
TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Belgium: Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku
Algeria: Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani, Saphir Taider, Madjid Bougherra
Russia: Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Alan Dzagoev, Igor Akinfeev
South Korea: Park Chu-young, Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, Jung Sung-ryong
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH
Belgium: Adnan Januzaj
Algeria: Nabil Bentaleb
Russia: Aleksandr Kokorin
South Korea: Son Heung-min
SBI’s PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Belgium. Far and away the best team in the group. Got the perfect draw to build experience heading into the knockout round
2. Russia. Unlucky at Euro 2012 and karma gave them a very manageable group.
3. South Korea. Experienced knockout rounds in 2010, but not this time around
4. Algeria. Have the ability to take down the teams above them, but the Algerians have slightly less talent than the rest of the group.
Belgium can, and most likely will, walk away from this one unscathed. The Belgians draw will prove to be ideal, as they can get their young core in the swing of World Cup competition before facing elite opposition in the later rounds. The battle for second place is where it gets interesting, with all three other teams having an opportunity to move on. At the end of the day, while any of the three can go through, the slight edge goes to Russia with manager Fabio Capello’s experience being a key factor for the Russians’ successes.
How do you see Group H shaking out? Can Belgium contend for this World Cup, or are they still a cycle away from elite status? Who do you see as the group’s second best team?
Share your thoughts below.