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

 

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

Adam Davy/PA via AP
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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images
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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE