The last of the World Cup groups gets underway on Tuesday as Algeria and Belgium face off in a Group H match in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although Algeria has improved in the overall FIFA world rankings, this may still be a tall order for the nation to beat a strong Belgian squad.
Algeria qualified for the World Cup via its finish in CAF Third Round action last year, but it wasn’t easy. Algeria, ranked 22nd in the world, tied the Burkina Faso squad 3-3 but earned the qualifying bid on the “away goals rule”, which is soccer’s fancy term for scoring more goals away from a team’s home stadium. This win was not without controversy, as Burkina Faso protested Algerian scorer Madjid Bouguerra was ineligible to play in the qualifier. FIFA eventually threw out the protest.
Belgium is considered the favorite in the group, as many believe the other three squads lack experience and Belgium has a higher ranking. However, Algeria has two solid forwards in Islam Slimani and El Arbi Hillel Soudani, who accounted for 21 goals combined during play this season. Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli has five goals, and he will be the primary threat at that position.
Algeria reached the World Cup in 1982, 1986 and 2010 but did not make it out of the first round any of those times.
Belgium, rated 11th in the world, qualified for six straight World Cups between 1982 and 2002. Its highest finish was fourth-place in 1986, but in the next four tournaments Belgium reached the round of 16 in 1990, 1994 and 2002 and did not make it out of stage play in 1998.
Defender Daniel Van Buyten takes his 10 goals into World Cup play, while midfielder Marouane Fellaini has eight goals. This team is capable of scoring, but the way this tournament has gone Algeria could spring a surprise. Still, the nod should go to Belgium here.
Predicted score: Belgium 3, Algeria 1
Belgium should start scoring early and keep Algeria off the board until late in the contest. This looks like it will be the big matchup of the first group, and it will go a long way toward deciding which two teams make it out of Group H.