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

 

Mendy a doubt for start of Man City’s Premier League season

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High-flying left back Benjamin Mendy‘s Manchester City takeoff has been delayed by a thigh injury.

Pep Guardiola revealed Thursday that Mendy is doubtful for City’s Aug. 12 Premier League opener at Brighton and Hove Albion despite passing a medical to push through a $68 million move from Monaco.

Saying Mendy is “a little bit injured,” Guardiola said to expect an absence of two to three weeks.

[ MORE: LAFC hires Bob Bradley ]

The depth chart behind Mendy is incomplete, though City has added two right backs this offseason in Kyle Walker and Danilo.

The latter would be the front-runner to start in Mendy’s place, as he did in a 3-5-2 as Man City beat Real Madrid 4-1 on Wednesday.

Man City follows its opener at Brighton with a visit from Everton and a trip to Bournemouth.

Roma gives new 4-year deal to Premier League target Nainggolan

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Hard-nosed midfielder Rajda Nainggolan has been linked to Manchester United and Chelsea for some time, but Thursday linked up long-term with his present club.

Nainggolan, 29, signed a new deal with AS Roma through the 2020-21 season, putting the Belgian box-to-box mid at the heart of i Lupi‘s plans to chase down Juventus.

[ MORE: Chatting with De Rossi ]

Nainggolan has been in the last two Serie A Best XIs.

The 29-times capped Belgian has six goals for his national team, and has 255 Serie A appearances between Cagliari and Roma. Nainggolan has 31 goals and 18 assists in those matches, scooping 62 yellows and two send-offs but never being handed straight red.

While it’s a perceived blow for his Premier League suitors, it’s a welcome retention for Roma. He’s arguably the reason Roma was ready to part with Michael Bradley in 2014, and you can see why: He plays right up to the line but knows right where it lies.

Too many fans: Udinese vs. Hannover friendly called off

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ST. VEIT, Austria (AP) Local authorities in southern Austria have called off Sunday’s friendly match between Udinese and Hannover as the estimated number of spectators exceeds the capacity of the stadium.

The city of St. Veit says about 4,000 fans, including 280 potential football hooligans, were expected for the game at the ground of local amateur club FC Alpe Adria, which has a capacity of 2,430.

St. Veit mayor Gerhard Mock says “it’s a shame … but security comes first.”

It’s not immediately clear whether the match between the Italian and German top-flight teams can be moved to a larger venue. Both Udinese and Hannover are having their preseason training camps in the province of Carinthia.

LIVE – Everton kick off Europa League campaign

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Wayne Rooney will play his first competitive game for Everton in 13 years.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores

That storyline will dominate Everton’s return to Europe as they kick off their 2017-18 UEFA Europa League campaign in front of a packed house at Goodison Park on Thursday.

The Toffees welcome Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok for the first leg of the third qualifying round as they aim to make it back to the group stage for the first time since 2014-15.

Click on the link above to follow not only Everton’s game but all of the Europa League qualifiers going on across Europe this afternoon with the likes of AC Milan, Fenerbache, PSV, Marseille and Athletic Bilbao all in action.

If Ronald Koeman‘s side successfully navigate their way past Ruzomberok then they will be in the play-off round which is the final hurdle before the group stage.