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. This is the eighth consecutive time Korea Republic have qualified for a World Cup final tournament.
Having looked to be building towards something special for a number of years, Belgium finally made the breakthrough many expected, with a golden generation seemingly capable of challenging the best. Les Diables Rouges (Red Devils) proved that on the road to Brazil 2014, topping Group A ahead of the likes of Croatia, Serbia and Scotland after an almost faultless campaign. The Belgians only dropped points in an early draw against Croatia and a second stalemate in their final outing, when their finals place was already assured.
After a so-so South Africa 2010 and a poor 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Algeria missed very few beats on their way to Brazil 2014. They won five of their six group matches to easily top what might have been a tricky section over Mali, Benin and Rwanda. Once in the final play-off round, they were unlucky to draw one of the continents form teams in Burkina Faso, who shocked Africa by finishing second at the 2013 AFCON. In that tie, they lost the first leg 3-2 to a late penalty, but just claimed the place in Brazil with a professional 1-0 win at home that gave them the advantage on away goals.
Drawn alongside Portugal, Russia were not favourites to win Group F and earn direct passage to Brazil 2014. Expectations soon shifted after a perfect start to their campaign, as the Russians kicked off with wins over Northern Ireland and Israel. Having set the tone, Fabio Capello’s side then revealed their ambitions by beating the Portuguese in Moscow courtesy of a solitary Alexander Kerzhakov goal.
Before finally securing their eighth consecutive FIFA World Cup™ qualification, Korea Republic had twice seen their campaign in significant peril. Unlike Japan, who counted on the same starting XI and Australia, who used their core of experienced players throughout qualification, a proven and reliable starting line-up was elusive for Korea Republic throughout the qualifying competition.
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