After missing the last two World Cups, Belgium come into this tournament as the favorite in their group and a contender to win it all. They start off their run against a dangerous Algeria team on Tuesday.
LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS: Despite not appearing in any major tournaments since 2002, Belgium come into this tournament with some high expectations. They are powered by Premier League stars Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard, among others, and drew a faborable group. With such little experience as a team on a big stage, can they work together to fulfill their promise?
TRUE UNDERDOGS: After not winning a game at the 2010 World Cup and allowing a certain famous Landon Donovan goal, Algeria come into this tournament with very low expectations. They have been able to win four straight games, including their last game against Romania, and sport dangerous attackers in Islam Slimani (Sporting Clube de Portugal) and Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia).
FELLAINI FORM: After scoring a career high 11 goals in the Premier League for Everton in 2012-13, Marouane Fellaini made a big-money transfer to Manchester United last August. Things did not exactly work out for him after that. He struggled with his form and injuries, leading to only 16 appearances without a single goal. The question is: Which version of Fellaini will we see at the World Cup?
REFEREE CONCERNS: After a much criticized penalty was called against Croatia in the opening match, Algerian coach Vahid Hlilhodzic spoke out about how he feels about the referees in this tournament. He called Yuichi Nishimura’s decision a “scandal,” and added, “the big countries will always receive preferential treatment: Brazil, England, Germany … I know Algeria is a small country. But I demand that we are treated in the same manner as the big countries.” Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez, also known as “Chiquidrácula,” will be the man in the middle in Belo Horizonte.
Chiquidracula pitara el Belgica vs Argelia... Le Hubieran dado el de Colombia de ayer! pic.twitter.com/APbTvFhiZi— Jonatan Ramirez (@T36Mafia) June 15, 2014
THE STAR YOU KNOW
- Eden Hazard, midfielder, Belgium -- The young attacker was recently named the PFA Young Player of the Year in England after scoring 14 goals in 2013-14. He has struggled to score at the international level but should be one of the most dangerous players on the field for the Red Devils.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU
- Islam Slimani, forward, Algeria -- The 25-year-old forward scored eight goals for Sporting in Portugal in his first season in Europe. He scored five goals for the Fennec Foxes during World Cup qualifying.