Belgium's national soccer team players Marouane Fellaini and Eden Hazard take part a training session at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels

World Cup Preview Group H: Belgium and the pack- Algeria, Russia, South Korea

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In terms of talent, there is no group at this year’s World Cup that sees such a huge gap between its leaders and the pack than Group G. Though Belgium, the group favorites, haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup, the Red Devils will arrive in Brazil as one of the most talented teams on the planet. Only a lack of experience and notable results keeps the Belgians from being more than a dark horse.

The rest of the group, however, may be the least inspiring two-through-four of the tournament:

  • Russia are in a partial transition from the Zenit St. Petersburg-dominated teams of the last six years;
  • inexperience through South Korea’s team makes the group’s second Red Devils a better bet for 2018;
  • while an Algeria side that will be better than its 2010 version are more scrappy than dangerous.

Let’s take another look at Group H (click on country name for full preview)

Belgium: Though the Belgians have one of the world’s most enviable cadres of young talent, the team hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in 12 years, leading many to ask how they could have possibly been seeded. Led by Eden Hazard in attack and Vincent Kompany in defense, however, Marc Wilmots’ team is clearly the best in this group. Only inexperience can trip them up.

Algeria: Moujid Bougherra’s presence anchors a defense that’s capable of competing with the South Koreans and Russians, but the team’s big questions are in attack. In South Africa, the Desert Foxes failed to score a goal. The lack of a proven scorer means goals could prove equally problematic in Brazil. Sofiane Feghouli’s playmaking will be vital.

Russia: The steel Fabio Capello instilled saw Russia confidently manage qualifying, but a slow defense could have problems with the speed of Group G’s opponents. Going forward, the loss of captain Roman Shirikov will hurt, leaving Russia hoping Aleksandr Kokorin will break out or Aleksandr Kerzahkov is more productive than he did in his last big tournament (Euro 2012).

South Korea: Threats going forward from Son Heung-min and Lee Chung-yong give the South Koreans the ability to take advantage of Russia and Algeria’s slower defenders, while a midfield triangle featuring Koo Ja-cheul and Ki Sung-yeung provides the quality and creativity to make use of Hong Myung-Bo’s most dangerous players. The side’s inexperienced center backs could prove problematic, while Park Chu-young may not give them the threat they need in the middle of attack.

Who’s going through: Belgium and Russia, though with Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski in defense, the speed of Algeria and South Korea could hurt them

Who’s going home: Algeria and South Korea. Algeria will consider this tournament a moral victory if they prove more dangerous than they were in South Africa, while 2014 sees the Koreans caught between two worlds.

Top players to watch:

5. Son Heung-min, South Korea

4. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium

3. Thibaut Courtois, Belgium

2. Vincent Kompany, Belgium

1. Eden Hazard, Belgium

 

Conte urges players “money is not everything” amid Costa rumors

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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While new reports are suggesting that China will have to curb its massive spending, Antonio Conte has urged his players that they don’t have to be tempted by the Chinese Super League.

[ MORE: United, Liverpool finish level after late Ibrahimovic equalizer ]

Chelsea currently sits atop the Premier League — seven points clear of Tottenham and Liverpool — but the club has recently been at the center of controversy as star striker Diego Costa has been linked with a move away from the club.

[ MORE: CSL set to limit number of foreign players per team ]

Costa missed his side’s 3-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday after several outlets reported a rift between the Spaniard and Conte.

The Chelsea manager told reporters following the match that Costa wasn’t available due to a back injury he suffered in training, but there has been continued speculation that the 28-year-old could head to China.

Conte has made it clear to his squad though that the quality of competition in England supersedes the money offered abroad.

“The money is not everything,” Conte told reporters. “When you play for a great team like Chelsea, you must be pleased.

“I think we are a great club and it is a great honour to play for Chelsea. For this reason I don’t see [China] as a threat for my players.

The Blues have lost a number of high-profile players over recent seasons to the high spending of Chinese football, including Brazilian duo Oscar and Ramires, as well as John Obi Mikel.

Oscar departed Chelsea this month to join Shanghai SIPG for a reported $72 million.

“I have to look at the past,” Conte said. “Oscar played with us, had a good offer from China and he went.

“But this league is really competitive and every player wants to come and play in this league.

“This league is the first in the world because of a lot of positive things, so I don’t think these offers from China are a threat for our league.”

Report: Ian Harkes expected to sign with DC United

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D.C. United didn’t have a top 10 selection in the MLS SuperDraft, but the club is likely to end up with one of the most talented collegiate players in the game.

[ MORE: Robinson, Ebobisse headline latest U.S. U-20 roster ]

According to the Washington Post, D.C. United is expected to sign Wake Forest attacker Ian Harkes to a multi-year contract.

[ MORE: Galaxy keeper Rowe replaces Frei with USMNT ]

Harkes, 21, came up through D.C.’s academy system before playing all four years for the Demon Deacons. The midfielder has gained significant notoriety over his college career, which concluded with Hermann Trophy honors following his senior senior.

As a former member of the D.C. academy, Harkes didn’t have to declare for the SuperDraft and is expected to sign a Homegrown contract with D.C. United in the coming days.

Harkes has also been considering his options abroad, which included second-division sides in England, where he was born. Ian is the son of former U.S. Men’s National Team star John Harkes, who played both in the United States and England over his professional career.

Bayern Munich signs Suele and Rudy from Hoffenheim

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 15:  Sebastian Rudy of Germany controls the ball during the International Friendly Match between Italy and Germany at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on November 15, 2016 in Milan, .  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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MUNICH (AP) German champion Bayern Munich has signed center half Niklas Suele and central midfielder Sebastian Rudy from Hoffenheim, with both players due to complete the season with their current club before joining on July 1.

[ MORE: Ibrahimovic rescues draw for United against Liverpool ]

Bayern said Sunday on its website that Rudy – who is out of contract in the summer – has signed a three-year deal until 2020 while Suele has agreed a five-year deal until June 2022.

[ MORE: Morata to Chelsea? Dybala staying put? ]

“Signing two Germany internationals is an investment in FC Bayern’s future,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “Sebastian Rudy joins us on a free transfer. In the case of Niklas Suele we have reached a fair and serious agreement with Hoffenheim.”

The 26-year-old Rudy has played 177 league games for Hoffenheim since joining from Stuttgart in 2010, while the 21-year-old Suele is a homegrown talent and has made 90 league appearances with the club.

“In terms of it being a farewell I feel a little wistful,” Suele said on Bayern’s website, adding that the move gives him the chance of “maturing further with one of the best teams in the world.”

Suele’s signing appears to be linked to the form of long-serving Bayern defender Holger Badstuber, who has been sent on loan to Schalke to get more game time.

The long-serving center-back has struggled with injuries in recent years and is not in Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti’s plans, having played only three games this season, starting just once.

MLS draftees Robinson, Ebobisse headline latest U.S. U-20 roster

LEIGH, GREATER MANCHESTER - OCTOBER 05: Tab Ramos, Head Coach of USA looks on prior to the Under 20s Four Nations Tournament match between Germany and the United States at Leigh Sports Village Stadium on October 5, 2016 in Leigh, Greater Manchester.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
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Fresh off of being selected at the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, several new MLSers were named to the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team roster for the team’s annual January camp.

Manager Tab Ramos has named his 24-man squad ahead of the latest camp, as the team prepares for the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in February.

Among the notable names in Ramos’ squad are recently drafted trio Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers) and Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC).

Additionally, 10 other MLS players have been called up by the U-20 side, including Orlando City defender Tommy Redding and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California; Newport Beach, Calif.), JT Marcinkowski (Georgetown; Alamo, Calif.), Brady Scott (De Anza Force; Petaluma, Calif.)

DEFENDERS (9): Hugo Arellano (LA Galaxy; Norwalk, Calif.), Marcello Borges (Michigan; Kearny, N.J.), Marlon Fossey (Fulham F.C.; Surbiton, ENG), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; Tucson, Ariz.), Aaron Herrera (New Mexico; Casa Grande, Ariz.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Tommy Redding (Orlando City SC; Oviedo, Fla.), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United FC; Arlington, Mass.), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; Media, Pa.)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake; Salt Lake City, UT), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls II; Wappingers Falls, N.Y), Coy Craft (FC Dallas; Frisco, TX), Jonathan Gonzalez (CF Monterrey; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Jonathan Lewis (NYCFC; Plantation, Fla.), Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake; Park City, Ut.), Jonathan Suarez (Queretaro F.C.; Orange County, Calif.), Eryk Williamson (Maryland; Alexandria, Va.)

FORWARDS (4): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers, Bethesda, Md.), Brooks Lennon (Liverpool; Paradise Valley, Ariz.), Josh Sargent (Scott Gallagher Missouri; O’Fallen, Mo.), Brandon Vazquez (Atlanta United FC; Chula Vista, CA)