S. Korea paired with Belgium, Algeria, Russia in 2014
Published : 2013-12-07 10:05
Updated : 2013-12-07 10:05
South Korea on Friday was paired with Belgium, Algeria and Russia in the group stage at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
At a draw held here in the Brazilian resort town, South Korea ended up in Group H with the two European qualifiers and one African representative.
South Korea, making its eighth consecutive World Cup appearance, is currently 54th in the FIFA rankings, the lowest among the four in the group.
Belgium is the highest-ranked nation in Group H at No. 11, followed by Russia at No. 22 and Algeria at No. 26. The top two countries from each of eight groups will advance to the knockout stage.
South Korea has never beaten Belgium, with a draw and two losses. South Korea has defeated Algeria in their only meeting, but lost to Russia 2-1 in their first-ever showdown last month in Dubai.
South Korea has faced Belgium at the World Cup twice, losing 2-0 at the 1990 tournament in Italy and drawing 1-1 at the 1998 event in France. South Korea has never played Algeria or Russia in a World Cup.
Belgium will be making its first World Cup appearance since 2002, by virtue of winning Group A in the European qualification with an undefeated record of eight wins and two draws.
The team is led by a 20-something trio of English Premier League stars: Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United and Christian Benteke of Aston Villa.
Russia will also be playing in its first World Cup in 12 years, after winning Group F over the more glamorous Portugal in the European qualification. Fabio Capello, former head coach of England, took over Russia in July and the team has gone 7-2-3 in win-loss-draw on his watch.
Against South Korea on Nov. 19, Russia fielded a team of players all based in the Russian Premier League.
Algeria will be playing in its second consecutive World Cup, after edging out Burkina Faso 1-0 in the clinching qualifying match. Defensive back Madjid Bougherra, who plays for Lekhwiya in Qatar, scored the winning goal in that crucial match.
Forward Islam Slimani, a member of Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, has netted nine goals in just 17 matches since making his international debut last year.
On paper, Group H appears to be relatively wide open, as South Korea avoided Spain, the defending champ and world No. 1, among other European powerhouses, and also South American contenders such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
South Korean head coach Hong Myung-bo, however, guarded against premature optimism, saying Belgium, Algeria and Russia will all be tough opponents for his squad.
"South Korean fans may not be too familiar with Belgium, but I think they will be an even better team next year," Hong told reporters here after the draw. "Russia is a team of physical and skilled players and Algeria is also a strong team. There is never an easy group at World Cups, and we can't afford to think that we've ended up in one."
Hong, a former South Korean national team captain, played in four World Cups as a defensive back. He said preparations will make all the difference in the tournament, and he will try to address South Korea's shortcomings in the coming months.
He also said the media have an important role to play leading up to the World Cup, adding that reports that underestimate South Korea's opponents may only end up motivating them.
Hong took over the national team in June. South Korea has won three matches, lost four and drawn three others since then, scoring 12 goals and giving up 11.
South Korea has had trouble converting scoring chances near the opposition net, while its defense has conceded a goal in six consecutive matches.
South Korea made an unlikely run to the semifinals at the 2002 World Cup, which it co-hosted with Japan, and that remains its best finish at the quadrennial event. At the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010, South Korea reached the round of 16 but lost to Uruguay 2-1.
South Korea will open the 2014 tournament against Russia on June 17 in Cuiaba, central Brazil, and then will face Algeria on June 22 in Porto Alegre, south of Cuiaba. It will close out the group stage against Belgium on June 26 in Sao Paulo.
Among other Asian qualifiers, Japan also ended up in a favorable pairing, joined by Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire and Greece in Group C.
Australia will have a difficult time making it out of Group B, which will feature the finalists from the 2010 World Cup, Spain and the Netherlands, along with Chile.
Iran, which defeated South Korea in their final Asian qualification match, drew Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group F.
Host Brazil will face Cameroon, Mexico and Croatia in Group A. The proverbial "Group of Death" could be Group G, which will pit two-time champion Germany against Ghana, the United States and Portugal. Group D may also be a stage for some hotly contested matches, with Uruguay, Italy, Costa Rica and England.
Group E features Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras and France, with the two European qualifiers favored to advance to the next round.
According to the Korea Football Association (KFA), the national governing body of the sport, Hong's team will open the first training camp of 2014 on Jan. 13 in Foz do Iguacu, about an hour's flight from Sao Paulo.
South Korea will then move to Los Angeles for two more weeks of training, and will play three friendly matches in the U.S., according to the KFA.
South Korea will first face Costa Rica on Jan. 25 in LA, followed by Mexico on Jan. 29 in San Antonio, and finally the U.S. in Carson, California, on Feb. 1. All three opponents will be playing at the 2014 World Cup. The KFA said times and venues of these matches are subject to change.(YONHAP)