Belgium, Russia headline Group H at the World Cup
BRUSSELS (AP) With Belgium, Russia, South Korea and Algeria, don't expect too much pre-World Cup hype from Group H.
Look closely, though, and you won't kiss it off as irrelevant.
Here are five things to know about Group H at the World Cup:
Group H might lack the appeal of teams like Brazil and Germany and stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but with Belgium players Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard, and Russia coach Fabio Capello, the group shouldn't be disregarded.
''We are in a complicated group,'' said Algeria midfielder Mehdi Mostefa, knowing he has to face both the unbridled individual talent of Belgium and the defensive teamwork of South Korea in the first round.
WHAT MAKES RUSSIA TICK?
Russia will organize the next World Cup, has financial clout and has attracted some of the best coaches in the world to rekindle the glory days of its 1960 European Nations Cup success, when the Soviet Union won the inaugural continental competition.
Dutch coaches Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat came and went, both stopping short of the full international recognition Russia craved. Somehow, a nation of 142 million people with a long football tradition finds it incredibly tough to be a contender.
Now it is up to Fabio Capello.
The Italian coach got Russia to Brazil by winning a group which included Portugal, and that has given him enough confidence to keep his eye on the second round.
Beyond the group opponents, Capello was more than pleased to see that all three of his matches would be played in temperate conditions in the south, keeping his players fit for later in the tournament.
''We are also happy about the fact that we are not playing in the northern part of the country,'' Capello said. ''That's very important to us.''
Like Fabio Capello, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots is also already looking beyond the first round.
The Red Devils might still be too young to reap the rewards of their talent, but there will be no waiting once they get to Brazil.
Perhaps the most exciting player of the group is Eden Hazard. The Chelsea playmaker has seen his stock rise during a standout season with Chelsea and an easy first-round group can do wonders for a player looking for recognition on the biggest stage.
Belgium starts out against Algeria and a solid performance against a team which likely will throw everything back in defense could quickly turn Hazard into a big name, with momentum going his way.
Losing the first game to Belgium is not exactly how the Algerians see their World Cup.
Four years ago, they held England to a scoreless draw but still went out in the group stage. Looking further back, 1982 should provide even more inspiration.
Algeria beat West Germany in its opening World Cup game, but a controversial result later in the round contrived to eliminate the north Africans. The bitterness of that experience remains, and every Algerian fan knows the team is still out for revenge.
AFTER EASY COMES DIFFICULT
Even if Group H seems easy, the rest of the way in the tournament will be anything but.
After the group matches, the road will lead to the top teams from Group G, arguably the toughest of the tournament. And if Germany advances as expected, any of the other group teams - Portugal, Ghana and the United States - will also be a tough opponent in the round of 16.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert