Group H looks on paper to be one of the most evenly weighted sections, though European duo Belgium and Russia will kick off as slight favourites against Algeria and Korea Republic, two teams undergoing a period of transition.
Between them, the four sides in Group H have appeared in 28 separate FIFA World Cups™. Belgium are the most experienced thanks to their 11 previous campaigns, even if they have not taken part since Korea/Japan 2002, while Korea Republic have appeared nine times, Russia five and Algeria four. As a result, no one team is likely to have everything their own way, although Belgium will be hoping to live up to the expectations raised by their golden generation of players and a coach adept at getting the best out of them. For their part, Russia will also travel to Brazil with lofty ambitions, the 2018 hosts side keen to perform before welcoming the world for the following edition.
Korea Republic are one of three teams in the group, along with Belgium and Russia, to have progressed to the semi-finals, with Guus Hiddink having led them to the last four on home soil in 2002. As for Algeria, they will be desperate to find the net after failing to score a single goal in their three group games at South Africa 2010, which included a 0-0 stalemate against an England side managed by current Russia coach Fabio Capello.
Players to watch
Eden Hazard (BEL), Romelu Lukaku (BEL), Marouane Fellaini (BEL), Sofiane Feghouli (ALG), Saphir Taider (ALG), Kim Bo-Kyung (KOR), Koo Ja-Cheol (KOR), Park Chu-Young (KOR), Igor Akinfeev (RUS), Aleksandr Kokorin (RUS)
The crunch match
Belgium-Russia: Top spot in the section could well be decided when the two European hopefuls lock horns at the Maracana on 22 June. In terms of past encounters, Russia hold the edge, having faced Belgium eight times as an independent nation or part of the Soviet Union and recorded a quartet of wins, along with one draw and three defeats. The picture is a little different on the World Cup stage, however, with both sides posting a pair of victories from their four previous jousts. In addition, Belgium have not lost to Russia since 1982.
A look back
Soviet Union-Belgium, 15 June 1986, Leon / Nou Camp - Estadio Leon
One of the most memorable encounters in World Cup history, the Round of 16 classic between Belgium and the Soviet Union at Mexico 1986 attained a level of drama and intensity few other knockout games have ever matched. Three goals were scored in extra time alone as the Red Devils ultimately prevailed 4-3, with Enzo Scifo, Jan Ceulemans, Stephane Demol and Roger Claessen all getting on the scoresheet for the victors. Belgium went on to reach the semi-finals, where they were finally stopped in their tracks by eventual winners Argentina and a Diego Maradona at the peak of his powers.
Did you know?
As a player, Russia coach Fabio Capello won 32 caps for Italy between 1972 and 1976. He has held the reins at some of the biggest clubs in world football, including AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus, and secured World Cup spots with both England and Russia – but he has never coached his homeland on the international stage.
8 – This is the eighth consecutive time Korea Republic have qualified for a World Cup final tournament.
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— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) 6 Décembre 2013