Algeria could prove to be the shock team of this group. With a rampant attack of Feghouli, Slimani and Soudani, Algeria will certainly be able to improve on their 2010 World Cup where they failed to score. Strong down the wings and with excellent poachers, Algeria will be able to challenge any defence.
Their playing style will likely see them pressing high up the pitch trying to win possession back, with Bentaleb and Taider as central passers behind the attacking trio. Defensively, they are often disorganised at set pieces and are severely lacking in a stand out goalkeeper, something which could hamstring what otherwise looks like an entertaining, goalscoring team.
I predict Algeria to battle it out with Russia and South Korea for second place, ultimately just falling behind. However, this is a hard group to call and any of the three could go through.
Best Finish: Group Stages – Spain 1982, Mexico 1986, South Africa 2010
Goalkeepers: Rais Mbolhi (CSKA Sofia), Cedric Si Mohamed (CS Constantine), Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche (USM Alger).
Defenders: Essaid Belkalem (Watford, on loan from Granada), Madjid Bougherra (Lekhwya Club), Liassine Cadamuro (Mallorca), Faouzi Ghoualm (Napoli), Rafik Halliche (Academica Coimbra), Aissa Mandi (Stade Reims), Carl Medjani (Valenciennes), Djamel Mesbah (Livorno), Mehdi Mostefa (AC Ajaccio).
Midfielders: Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham), Yasine Brahimi (Granada), Medhi Lacen (Getafe), Saphir Taider (Inter Milan), Hassan Yebda (Udinese).
Forwards: Abdelmoumene Djabou (Club Africain), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Nabil Ghilas (Porto), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon, Portugal), Hilal Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb).
Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic – Bosnian, gets the best from his players.
Last line-up: (Algeria 2 – 1 Romania)
Medjani – Cadamuro – Bougherra – Ghoulam
Bentaleb – Mostefa – Taider
Feghouli – Soudani – Djabou
One To Watch: Sofiane Feghouli (RW, Valencia)
Belgium arrive at the World Cup this summer as one of the most hyped teams, and certainly they have the players to justify their billing as dark horses to win in Brazil.
With a host of tricky forward players capable of both creating and scoring goals, as well as the imposing Romelu Lukaku up front, Belgium will be able to threaten any team they face. As well as this they have possibly the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment in Thibaut Courtois, playing behind a pair of very solid central defenders: Kompany and Van Buyten.
Their key weakness, however will be at right back and left back, where centre backs have been drafted in and will be susceptible to attacks from fast wingers, something which nearly every team in the tournament has. Also important will be how the Belgian players cope with the hype surrounding them as their performances will be heavily scrutinised.
I predict Belgium to top this group. They could potentially get as far as the quarter finals but I feel the teams they face by that point will be too strong for them.
Best Finish: Fourth – Mexico 1986
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, on loan from Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Sammy Bossut (Zulte Waregem).
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele (both Tottenham), Steven Defour (Porto), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg).
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton, on loan from Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli).
Manager: Marc Wilmots – the man who turned them into a team.
Last line-up: (Belgium 1 – 0 Tunisia)
Alderweireld – Van Buyten – Kompany – Vertonghen
Defour – Dembele
Mirallas – Fellaini – Hazard
One To Watch: Eden Hazard (LW, Chelsea)
Following a poor qualification campaign which saw them finish ahead of Uzbekistan by a single goal on goal difference, South Korea have been revitalised by new manager Hong.
Their playing style will be based around rapid counter attacks with the ball being played out to their wingers or to Heung-Min Son to dictate their play. They also have Sung-Yeung Ki, who has had an impressive period at Sunderland, as a constant option for a pass and instigator of most of their attacks.
Weaknesses can be seen in their defence and goalkeeper, neither of which are entirely convincing and they are poor at defending set-pieces. However, with a squad of young yet experienced players, this could be either a brilliant tournament for South Korea, or at the very least extra experience for a team that will likely be largely unchanged should they qualify for the next World Cup.
I predict South Korea to finish third in this group, just missing out to a well-organised Russia.
Best Finish: Group Stages – Spain 1982, Mexico 1986, South Africa 2010
Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryeong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Horang-i), Lee Bum-young (Busan I’Park)
Defenders: Yun Suk-young (QPR), Kim Young-kwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Hwang Seok-ho (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hong Jeong-ho (Augsburg), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Lee Yong (Ulsan Horang-i), Kim Chang-soo (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Joo-ho (Mainz)
Midfielders: Ki Seung-yueng (Sunderland, on loan from Swansea), Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jung-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg).
Forwards: Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Arsenal), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Horang-i).
Manager: Myung-Bo Hong – former captain, managed Olympic team to bronze in 2012.
Last line-up: (Ghana 4 – 0 Korea Republic)
Kim Chang-Soo – Kim Young-Gwon – Kwak Tae-Hwi – Yun Suk-Young
Ki Sung-Yueng – Koo Ja-Cheol
Han Kook-Young – Son Heung-Min – Lee Chung-Yong
One To Watch: Heung-Min Son (ST, Bayer Leverkusen)
Following a disappointing Euros, Russia are now looking transformed. With an energetic central trio of Denisov, Shirokov and Fayzulin, their pressing style and quick wing play should be a challenge for any team in this group to deal with.
They now boast goals throughout the team with Kerzhakov’s shakey goal scoring being well subsidised by players such as Aleksandr Kokorin. As well as this the players will know each other’s games well with only one player, Pogrebnyak not coming from the national league and many club partnerships being transferred to the national team. With an experienced centre back pairing of Ignashevich and Berezutski, Russia will also be unlikely to leak unnecessary goals.
I predict Russia to finish second in the group but will likely go out against a strong Round of 16 opponent.
Best Finish: Fourth – England 1966 (as USSR)
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan).
Defenders: Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Eshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Alexey Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow).
Midfielders: Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexey Ionov (Dynamo Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin Kazan), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Victor Faizulin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St Petersburg).
Forwards : Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow).
Manager: Fabio Capello – ex-England boss, doing better with Russia.
Last line-up: (Russia 2 – 0 Morocco)
Eshchenko – Berezutski – Ignashevich – Schennikov
Denisov – Faizulin
Samedov – Shatov – Zhirkov
One To Watch: Aleksandr Kokorin (ST, Dynamo Moscow)
How do you see this group going? Have your say in our discussion thread here.
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