Belgium Currently at 11, Belgium are the highest-ranked team in Group H and have also made the most appearances in the World Cups compared to their opponents.
Six of the team’s overall 11 previous campaigns were part of a successive streak that started from 1982 and ended in 2002. The furthest Belgium have ever progressed was in the 1986 edition, where they finished their campaign in fourth place.
The Western Europe nation qualified for the 2014 World Cup after an impressive performance in their Uefa qualifiers, where they won eight of their ten matches, drew two and lost none to finish atop Group A. The current Belgian side has been dubbed the ‘new golden generation’ by the media, having achieved an all-time high fifth Fifa world ranking in October 2013. Head coach Marc Wilmots is credited with “not only giving the young group confidence in themselves, as well as enjoying a close relationship with his players, but also at the same time being capable of instilling discipline to the squad”. In his playing days, Wilmot appeared in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups, making eight appearances and scoring five goals. He also captained the side in 2002, the last time Belgium appeared at a major championship.
Les Diables Rouges have players like Eden Hazard on the flank, who can make excellent scoring opportunities from that position. Their midfield will also be strong will Maruoanne Fellaini and Axel Witsel bringing experience from playing in the Champions League.
The highest-ranked team in Africa as of June 5, Algeria have played in the 1982, 1986 and 2010 Fifa World Cups but have never progressed further than the first round. They beat Burkina Faso 1-0 in their World Cup play-off second leg to qualify for Brazil on the away goals rule after a 3-3 aggregate draw, becoming the first African and only Arab nation to seal their berth in the 2014 edition.
The current side will be looking to play for pride as much as for victory; the team was unable to score a single goal in their three games at the last World Cup, which included a goalless draw against England. Their Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic has cast aside several established players in favour of a new generation, many of whom represented France at youth level. Algeria’s key player is undoubtedly Sofiane Feghouli who played twice for the French U21 side. The Valencia forward could be the Fennec Foxes’ key man in Brazil and can be relied upon to put in a real shift for his team against the technically superior Belgians and Russians.
In their nine appearances at the World Cup, Russia’s best result came in 1966 where they managed to reach the semi-finals. They did not fare badly in the 1958, 1962 and 1978 either (finishing their campaign at the quarter-finals stage), but went downhill thereafter. Sbornaya’s recent best result came in the Euro 2008, where they finished semi-finalists.
The hosts of the 2018 World Cup qualified for this year’s event from the top of their group after a 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan in their last game.
One of the players to watch out would be goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who conceded just five goals during the whole qualification competition. On the other hand, Aleksandr Kerzhakov was the team’s top scorer with five goals in the same round and may prove to be lethal in finishing.
South Korea are one of the most successful teams in Asia, having participated in eight consecutive and nine overall Fifa World Cup editions — the highest number for any Asian team. Starting from 1954, this will be the 10th time that South Korea will appear in the mega event. Although they have failed to achieve a win in five of their World Cup outings, South Korea became the first and only Asian team to make it to the semi-final stages in 2002, when they co-hosted the event with Japan; their fourth-place finish is the team’s best result to date.
The team narrowly qualified for the 2014 World Cup by finishing second in their group via goal difference in the Asian Football Confederation qualification round. Their present head coach Hong-Myung Bo captained the team in its impressive 2002 show and is also the most-capped player (136) in the entire history of the nation’s football.