The excitement surrounding Belgium in this summer’s FIFA World Cup is quite intense but can Marc Wilmots’ side deliver on the hype and make a serious impact at Brazil 2014? The country is blessed with some of the best natural talent in global football and they are favourites to win Group H at 4/6 but the Belgians need to come through at least one tough fixture when the finals get underway.
Fabio Capello’s Russia are Belgium’s second set of opponents in Group H and having edged out Portugal in qualifying, it’s clear that this is the biggest threat to Wilmot’s men. Russia couldn’t maintain a 100% record in that qualifying phase however and a shock defeat to Northern Ireland was the worst result over ten games.
Capello has a dangerous side that includes deadly striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov but it can be a temperamental unit and if things aren’t going Russia’s way, they can be vulnerable to even the weaker teams. It’s a tough opener but Belgium should have the quality to take three points.
Before the crucial tie with Russia, Wilmots’ men face the group’s outsiders Algeria in Belo Horizonte on the 17th of June. Few pundits are giving the Algerians a chance in this fixture and Vahid Halilhodžić’s men are the rank outsiders at odds of 50/1 with Winner Sports to win Group H.
There is no way that the Algerians can deliver on that price but the country has caused a major upset in the past – beating West Germany at the 1982 finals in Spain in one of the top surprise victories in football World Cup history. However this current crop of internationals may not be the pushovers that most are expecting them to be.
The Algerians topped Group F of the initial round of CAF qualifying but they were unconvincing as they edged past Burkina Faso in the play offs via the away goals rule. Dinamo Zagreb’s El Arabi Hillel Soudani is the main threat but this should be a comfortable 90 minutes for the Belgians.
By the time Belgium play South Korea in Sao Paolo on the 26th of June, they should have already qualified for the knockout stages of this tournament. However, Wilmots team will strive to win in order to avoid a potentially tricky clash in the round of 16.
The South Koreans made it to the semi-finals of the 2002 tournament but cynics will say that as the host nation, they took advantage of some rather one-sided refereeing decisions. In 2014, qualification from the AFC group wasn’t smooth and eventually, Hong Myung-bo’s team came through in second place, narrowly avoiding the lottery of the play offs.
Whatever your opinion of the South Korean sides of the past may be, it’s fair to say that the 2014 squad isn’t as strong and Myung-bo’s men may even struggle to get past Algeria.
World Cup Group H Odds
Belgium look to be a safe prediction to win the group at those odds of 4/6 and only the Russians really pose any tangible threat. Wilmots’ men are 2/5 with Winner Sports to win their opening clash against the Algerians and that should be the safest bet of all.
One concern for punters is the loss of Christian Benteke to injury and that leaves Belgium with one experienced striker in Romelu Lukaku. Someone will have to take responsibility from within the squad and while Benteke’s absence may hamper the team in later rounds, making it unlikely for Belgium to win World Cup but it shouldn’t deter them from winning their group.