Hipsters’ Pick Belgium Faces Russia: World Cup Group HDex McLuskey
Belgium and the Soviet Union gave us one of the most memorable World Cup games 28 years ago, when the Red Devils rallied to win 4-3 in extra time. They play Russia in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium on June 22.
* European Dominance: No. 11 Belgium and No. 19 Russia probably will prevail over Algeria, the top-ranked African country at No. 22, and No. 57 South Korea. Both favorites have stumbled lately, so it is not a lock.
* Belgian Bona Fides: Marc Wilmots’s team booked a place in Brazil with one qualifying game to spare. Its roster includes strikers Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, midfielder Marouane Fellaini and defender Vincent Kompany, making Belgium a popular pick among soccer hipsters to reach the later stages of the tournament. Even though it beat Luxembourg and Sweden in its most recent games, it has been unimpressive of late, losing to Japan and Colombia, and drawing with Wales and Ivory Coast.
* Sliding: Russia is undefeated in nine games and made the World Cup for the first time since 2002 in a qualifying group that included Portugal. That said, FIFA’s ranking of the team has skidded five places to 18th since former England coach Fabio Capello took over in July 2012. Bloomberg Sport analytics picks Russia to finish second behind Belgium in the group. In four previous World Cup meetings between teams, Belgium and Russia each have a pair of wins.
* Spoiler Alerts: South Korea is in the World Cup for the eighth straight time and reached the round of 16 four years ago in South Africa. It has surprised before: In 2002, as joint host with Japan, it reached the semifinals before finishing fourth. Algeria, too, shouldn’t be taken for granted. It performed dismally four years ago when it was eliminated without scoring a goal. It has a history of making trouble for favorites. In 1982 it beat eventual runner-up West Germany 2-1 in their opening game.
* Game Schedule: June 17: Belgium vs Algeria; Russia vs South Korea. June 22: Belgium vs Russia, South Korea vs Algeria. June 26: Algeria vs Russia, South Korea vs Belgium.
* Bloomberg Sports’ Title Chances: Belgium - 7.4 percent; Russia - 1.1 percent; South Korea - 0.4 percent; Algeria - 0.2 percent.