2014 World Cup Preview: Group H

Group H - Algeria, Belgium, Russia, South Korea

Algeria
Ranked 22nd in the world
Qualified with a 5-1-0 record in Group H in Africa, then won a playoff with Burkina Faso to advance.

This is the fourth time Algeria has reached the World Cup, but it has never advanced out of the Group Stage. In 2010, Algeria was moments away from eliminating the U.S. National Team in the Group Stage, but a stoppage time goal from Landon Donovan put the U.S. through as winners of the group instead.

This is an Algeria team in transition. There is only one player on the 23-man roster with more than 30 caps and that is captain Madjid Bougherra. The former Rangers defender spent the last three years playing in Qatar while many of his teammates play in Portugal, Russia, France and Italy. The forward tandem of Islam Slimani and El Arbi Hillel Soudani has shown the ability to score in tournaments in Africa, but how that translates against the likes of Belgium and Russia will be determined in Brazil and will go a long way in determining if Algeria can reach the Knockout Stage for the first time.

Belgium
Ranked 11th in the world
Qualified with an 8-0-2 record to win Group A in Europe.

Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2002, Belgium is in a good position to advance in this year's tournament. In a stretch of six straight World Cups from 1982-2002, Belgium advanced beyond the Group Stage five times, finishing as high as fourth in 1986 behind a balanced scoring attack that saw seven players score in the tournament.

Belgium is the favorite to win Group H due in large part to a bevy of players with big-game experience on the club level. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois helped Atletico Madrid reach the Champions League final this year along with defender Toby Alderweireld, while captain Vincent Kompany led Manchester City to two Premier League titles in the last three years. Add young attacking stars Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard and there is a lot of potency and potential in Belgium's squad.

Russia
Ranked 18th in the world
Qualified with a 7-2-1 record to win Group F in Europe, finishing ahead of Portugal.

This is just the third appearance in the World Cup for Russia since 1994 and first since 2002. In those two previous appearances, Russia went 1-2-0 both times and failed to advance out of the Group Stage. They have always been competitive in Europe, but that has not always equaled success in World Cup qualifying.

The entire Russian National Team plays its club soccer in Russia, with the roster split mostly between Dynamo Moscow (6), CSKA Moscow (5), Zenit St. Petersburg (4) and Rubin Kazan (3). Dynamo holding midfielder Igor Denisov captains an experienced squad that finished third in the 2008 European Championships and narrowly missed advancing from the Group Stage in 2012.

South Korea
Ranked 55th in the world
Qualified with a 4-2-2 record in Asia to finish second in its group.

This is the eighth consecutive World Cup appearance for the Korea Republic, highlighted by a fourth-place finish when it served as joint-host with Japan in 2002. The last three tournaments have shown promise, with South Korea advancing out of the Group Stage twice and winning at least one match each year. After going winless in 12 matches prior to 2002, it shows progress in Asia.

After the international retirement of Park Ji-Sung, Park Chu-Young has taken the mantle as the country's most popular player. The Arsenal forward has 24 goals in 64 appearances, leading a squad that has all but one player under the age of 30. However, it's an experienced group too, with seven players boasting 35 or more caps and six more with at least 20. South Korea is a longshot to get out of the group, but may surprise teams with its competitive fight.

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