Capello, Hazard in SWC duel

2014-06-10 09:09
Fabio Capello (AFP)

Rio de Janeiro - The wily Fabio Capello must outfox the explosive talent of Eden Hazard if Russia are to beat Belgium to top spot in World Cup Group H.

Capello, the highest paid coach at the World Cup, will have earned every cent of his reported $6.5 million a year salary if Russia get first place and an easier ride in the second round.

Algeria and South Korea can only hope for a shock win over either of the favourites to open up Group H.

Pressure is on Russia, hosts of the 2018 World Cup, to shine at this tournament.

Their best World Cup result so far was when the old Soviet Union came fourth at the 1966 tournament. They have not played in the finals since 2002.

But Capello guided them to top place in their European qualifying group ahead of Portugal.

They conceded only five goals and Capello has built a team with cautious tactics that stubbornly holds out against opponents and relies on Zenit St Petersburg striker Aleksander Kerzhakov up front.

Group H could be decided when Russia face Belgium in Rio de Janeiro on June 22.

If Hazard can prove he is capable of showing his English Premier League brilliance on the international stage then he is just the player to prise open Capello's ageing defence.

The 23-year-old has played a central role in Belgium's resurgence as a football power to be reckoned with.

Coach Marc Wilmots was the last Belgian to score at the World Cup finals in 2002, which was also the last time the Belgians appeared there.

But Wilmot's guile added to the exciting Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, tough midfielder Alex Witsel and equally physical defender Vincent Kompany took Belgium from 54th to fifth in the FIFA world rankings.

They were unbeaten as they topped their qualifying group.

The World Cup Group H may look easy for the two favourites, but Wilmots says it is a "trap".

"The group is very hungry, that's kind of my fear, that they want to go too much and too hard," he said in a recent newspaper interview. "At this level, they are inexperienced."

South Korea are very experienced at the World Cup, now in their eighth straight finals, and they made the semifinals when they hosted the tournament with Japan in 2002.

But this time they only claimed a place on goal difference ahead of Uzbekistan. Coach Choi Kang-Hee resigned after the campaign to be replaced by Hong Myung-Bo, captain of the 2002 team.

The young team counts on 21-year-old striker Son Heung-Min, Bayer Leverkusen's record 10 million euro ($13.5 million) signing.

Kim Young-Gwon, who plays for Guangzhou in China, has also been tipped for international success by his club manager Marcelo Lippi, the former Italian World Cup winning coach.

Algeria, coached by Vahid Halihodzic, have also been carried into the World Cup finals by a new youthful generation.

Team captain Madjid Bougherra, once a cornerstone of the Glasgow Rangers defence, will retire from international football after the tournament but there are plenty of new names to keep the Desert Foxes on the move.

Sofiane Feghouli, 24, is a tough attacking midfielder for Valencia who could have played for France.

English Premier League sides West Ham United and Crystal Palace are said to be watching 25-year-old striker Islam Slimani, who plays with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal and was voted Algeria's Player of the Year in 2013.


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