S. Korea’s World Cup opponents peaking at the right time

June 1, 2014

Belgium, Russia and Algeria combined for 4-0-1 record last week

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku picked up a hat trick against Luxembourg and scored another against Sweden last week. (AP)

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku picked up a hat trick against Luxembourg and scored another against Sweden last week. (AP)

(Yonhap) — South Korea’s Group H opponents at the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil have collectively gone undefeated in their prep matches for the big tournament, providing a glimpse into what can be expected in games that will matter later this month.

Belgium and Russia have played two matches in the past week, and Algeria has played one match in the buildup to the World Cup.

Belgium is the top-ranked nation in Group H at No. 12 and is favored to win the group in Brazil. Belgians earlier routed Luxembourg 5-1 and then blanked Sweden 2-0.

Russia, at No. 18, defeated Slovakia 1-0 and then drew Norway 1-1, while Algeria, ranked 25th, beat Armenia 3-1.

South Korea, at No. 55, is the lowest-ranked nation in Group H, and suffered a 1-0 loss to Tunisia last week.

Belgium put its firepower on full display, with striker Romelu Lukaku picking up a hat trick against Luxembourg and scoring another against Sweden. Eden Hazard, a star midfielder for Chelsea, scored the other Belgian goal against Sweden.

The likes of Hazard and fellow midfielder Kevin De Bruyne are expected to be the creative force on the Belgian offense, with Lukaku more than capable of finishing around the net.

Kim Dae-gil, an analyst for the local cable station KBSN, said Belgium did show a hole on defense that South Korea should try to exploit, as Luxembourg scored against the heavily favored Belgium on a long-range strike that appeared to surprise defenders.

“I think the play showed that if South Korea can play strong defense and mount a fast counterattack, it could grab a scoring opportunity against Belgium,” Kim observed.

Russia played stifling defense in both of its matches, but its offense left much to be desired.

Russia’s aging defensive corps could haunt the team, Kim said, as centerbacks Sergei Ignashevich, 34, and Aleksei Berezutski, 31, noticeably tired in the latter part of the match against Norway.

Algeria didn’t have all of its best players to start against Armenia, with playmaker Sofiane Feghouli among those watching from the bench at the kickoff, but had little trouble in the convincing win.

The result might have also sent a message to South Koreans who might have considered Algeria the easiest opponent in Group H.

“The Algerian players showed great individual skills and used them to their advantage on offense,” Kim said. “They’re not an easy opponent. South Korea must study them closely and prepare ways to beat them.”