It’s down to the final group of the 2014 World Cup.
While every other group has its fair share of “superstars”, Group H has the least amount. While it was the most sought-after group in the tournament due to its late scheduling and friendly weather, teams looking for the easiest possible ride into the knockout stage were disappointed to see it go to teams that likely won’t make it too far past the first round.
Belgium is the only clear winner in this group above Algeria, Russia and South Korea, and are also perhaps the only team with a shot of making a deep run.
On paper, there aren’t that many countries out there that can stop the Belgians. Essentially, they are that one upstart team that you just don’t want to have to face on your journey to the final.
There’s no one place that you look to first with this team, but we’ll start with their youth. Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku come in with an average age of under 22-years old between them, and that makes up nearly half of the key starters.
The relative international inexperience of this team could either hurt them or help them. It will hurt not having the poise and leadership of a proven winner against teams like Spain, Germany or Argentina later on in the tournament.
However, that youthful fearlessness, the ability to come into a match with no expectations of how the game will go and just play their game, that could be the young Belgian’s greatest strength. Most of these players have passed the “up-and-comer” status by this point and are established key players on good teams.
Eden Hazard is the best player on this side coming off of yet another outstanding season in his short career with Chelsea. Despite his small stature, Hazard consistently proves to the world that size doesn’t matter when you have all the skills to literally dissect a defense.
Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku have shown that they can score in the Premier League on a regular basis, so this could be a very fun combination to watch in Brazil up top.
Centerbacks Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham and Vincent Kompany of Manchester City are perhaps the keys to stabilizing this team from the back, bringing with them some solid resumes and a midfield of Mousa Dembele, Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini make up an extremely talented and physical midfield.
And it doesn’t stop there. Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and Chelsea’s Kevin De Bruyne will also come in on the wings to provide more depth to an already very dangerous squad.
After Belgium, it’s almost a tossup for that second spot.
No. 19 Russia has been in form, especially throughout an easy qualifying stage where they conceded just five goals. Andrey Arshavin is one guy who can really inspire his teammates as he has in the past, but the past is getting further and further away from him with every day that goes by.
Algeria comes in currently at No. 25 in the world and carry with them a reputation as a nation that doesn’t have the talent to win it all but that can definitely shock a team it’s supposed to lose to.
The Algerians did this by beating West Germany in 1982, almost taking down Brazil in ’86 and most recently by drawing with England and nearly upsetting the US in South Africa.
While those examples gave Algeria just one win, in the world of international soccer that we live in they are all noteworthy. With striker Nabil Ghilas leading the way, this team is sure to be a thorn in at least one team’s side.
And last we have South Korea. Don’t be fooled by their No. 60 world ranking, the Korea Republic has made it out of two of the last three World Cup group stages and is looking for another extended trip in Brazil.
Sadly, they will be without their spiritual leader on the field in Park Ji-Sung who retired from the international team several years ago, but there is still considerable talent on this team.
Cardiff’s Kim Bo-Kyung, Sunderland’s Ki Sung-Yueng and Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min lead a technical offensive attack that might just surprise the world once again.
That’s the last of the groups, but there’s still two months until the World Cup finally starts. Until then, watch the Champions League, play FIFA and check out some YouTube videos of players you’ve never seen. Stop drooling; we’re almost there.