Thursday's Group H Play
June 25, 2014
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South Korea vs. Belgium (ESPN, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Belgium -140, South Korea +350, Tie +295
Over/Under: 2.5 Goals (Over -105, Under -125)
Group H play concludes on Thursday with heavily-favored Belgium needing only a draw with desperate South Korea to win the group.
South Korea was pummeled 4-2 versus Algeria in their most recent game, but still have a mathematical chance at advancement due to a 1-1 tie earned in the tournament opener. But the Taeguk Warriors need to beat the Red Devils by at least three goals and hope that Russia beats Algeria in a game played simultaneously with this one. Belgium, which won both of its matches so far (2-1 versus Algeria and 1-0 over Russia), needs only a draw to assure themselves of being the group champion, and a they could still take Group H with a loss combined with an Algeria defeat or draw.
South Korea held the possession advantage against both Russia (52% to 48%) and Algeria (54% to 46%), but has been outshot 31-19 in the World Cup, including 18-12 in shots on goal. They didn't attempt a single shot during the first half of their loss to Algeria. The Taeguk Warriors have been very disciplined this tournament with only one offsides call and just 20 fouls committed, compared to 31 fouls for their opponents. However, South Korea has amassed five yellow cards already with defenseman Lee Yong and midfielder Han Kookyoung picking up cards versus Algeria to join forward Son Heung-min and midfielders Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-Cheol all getting booked in the World Cup opener. Hueng-min and Ja-Cheol were the goal scorers versus Algeria and will try to spend most of their time in the Belgium half of the field for a Taeguk Warriors team desperate to tally at least three goals on Thursday.
Belgium has a pedestrian three goals in two World Cup matches -- all from substitute players (midfielders Marouane Fellaini, Dries Mertens and forward Divock Origi), but they have created several great chances with 27 total shots, and 17 of those winding up on net. The Red Devils have also held a possession advantage in each game, with 65% possession versus Algeria and 53% against Russia. But they have also been extremely dangerous with their challenges with 34 fouls and three yellow cards issued to midfielder Axel Witsel and defensemen Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. But Belgium's defense remains top-notch, with the only goal allowed this tournament coming off a penalty kick as the result of Vertonghen's silly decision to grab his opponent by the arm in the box. Center back Vincent Kompany was able to play through a groin injury in the last match, and is virtually 100 percent healthy for Thursday. As the leader of his team's great counter-attack, Kompany will play a big role in determining the fate of Group H.
Algeria vs. Russia (ESPN2, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Russia +120, Algeria +220 Tie +237
Over/Under: 2.5 Goals (Over +130, Under -158)
Algeria and Russia both wrap up Group H play on Thursday in a match where the winner has a great chance to advance to the knockout round.
After losing a late lead in a 2-1 defeat to Belgium in its World Cup opener, Algeria stormed back for a 4-2 victory over South Korea to pick up a crucial three points. Russia was able to earn only a 1-1 draw with South Korea to begin the tournament, and a subsequent 1-0 loss to Belgium has Russia needing a victory to have any chance to advance to the Round of 16 for the first time ever. Algeria knows that a win plus a Belgium loss to South Korea will put them in first place in Group H, but a tie on Thursday should also send them through for the first time ever, unless the unlikely scenario occurs where South Korea beats a favored Belgium squad by at least three goals. The only injury concern for either team is whether or not Russia defenseman Aleksandr Kozlov can play after suffering an injury versus Belgium.
Algeria failed to score a goal in the entire 2010 World Cup, but coach Vahid Halilhodzic's club already has five tallies in its first two matches in this tournament. The team's penalty-kick goal by midfielder Sofiane Feghouli was its only shot on goal versus Belgium in a match where they attempted just three total shots, but was much more aggressive against South Korea with 15 shots on goal, eight shots on net, and four shots in net by four different players (forward Islam Slimani, defenseman Rafik Halliche and midfielders Abdelmoumene Djabou and Yacine Brahimi). And after being dominated in possession by Belgium (65% to 35%), Algeria held the ball 46% of the time versus South Korea. Although Algeria has been very physical in this tournament with 34 fouls, they have picked up only two yellow cards with midfielder Nabil Bentaleb in the opener and defender Madjid Bougherra in the most recent match.
With Russia needing a victory for a chance at advancement, expect Fabio Capello's squad to be much more aggressive in this match. But it's all about finishing for this team that has attempted a solid 29 total shots, with 16 of those on goal, so far in the tournament. But only Alexander Kerzhakov was able to find the back of the net for Russia in the World Cup when he was inside the goalie box after a failed clearing attempt by South Korea hit Russia's Andrey Eshchenko in the chest and landed right on Kerzhakov's foot for an easy goal. Russia's defense has played pretty well too with only two goals allowed. One of those tallies came at the 88-minute mark by Belgium, while the other occurred in the opening match when Russia goalie Igor Akinfeev let a seemingly harmless South Korea shot go right through his hands. Russia has lost time of possession in both of its matches, but only by small margins (52% to 48% and 53% to 47%). Russia has also been disciplined enough to not get whistled for any offsides, and have committed only 24 fouls so far, incluidng a pair of yellow cards to midfielders Oleg Shatov and Denis Glushakov.
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