Though the teams in this group, Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea, are not particularly talented compared to the rest of the field, they provided us with two entertaining games. Belgium came back to beat Algeria 2-1 and Russia earned a late 1-1 draw against South Korea.
What We Learned About Belgium - They looked uninventive and sluggish in the first half, but with a number of fantastic changes by coach Marc Wilmots, they looked an entirely different team in the second half. Wilmots brought on Fellaini, Mertens, and Origi, all of whom brought energy and creativity up front that was lacking previously. The struggle with this team is that they have so many players who are at the same skill level and play in the same positions so choosing who to start and who to sub on becomes a dilemma. Wilmots may not have started the right crew but he certainly made up for it with some brilliant second half subs. Another thing to watch in this Belgium team is whether the fullbacks, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who are traditionally center backs, can keep up with pacier wingers. Vertonghen yielded Algeria's early penalty because he was not quick enough to keep up with his man, while Alderweireld was the man who allowed the cross in the first place. In the end, Belgian fans will be relieved that Wilmots finally found the right group of players to deliver a win for Belgium.
Belgium's Best Player - Marouane Fellaini, Center Midfielder - Didn't start the game but came on for Dembele in the 65th minute. Scored Belgium's first goal just five minutes after coming in and was in general a dominant force throughout the rest of the second half.
Belgium's Worst Player - Romelu Lukaku, Striker - Was extremely underwhelming - didn't make any of the right runs and even struggled to hold up the ball at times. Was eventually subbed out for Origi, who, despite not playing particularly well, still outplayed Lukaku.
What We Learned About Algeria - Algeria showed very little desire to break into attack but were decently effective on the off chances that they did. The most impressive thing about their performance, though, was certainly their defending, which was absolutely on point until a myriad of second half changes gave the Belgian side a bit more creativity. In a group that appears to be fairly weak, Algeria could make some noise, having already played the most dangerous team. The question that I have concerning this Algeria team is whether they will continue to favor their defense or if they will instead try to play a more free-flowing attack style against their upcoming opponents.
Algeria's Best Player - Sofiane Feghouli, Attacking Midfielder - Provided a consistent outlet for Algeria and also converted the penalty clinically.
Algeria's Worst Player - Mehdi Mostefa, Right Back - Didn't play horribly, but many of Belgiums second half attacks came down the left flank and Mostefa was unable to do anything about it.
What We Learned About Russia - Russia were favored to beat South Korea fairly easily, but they found themselves being outplayed by a decent margin by the Koreans through the seventy minute mark. This poor performance could have been attributed to the fact three of Russia's most successful players, Kerzhakov, Denisov, and Dzagoev were all oddly left out of the starting lineup. After the three were finally substituted into the game, Russia's attack immediately looked more creative and they equalized in the 74th minute. Hopefully their manager will make the right changes for their next game against Belgium or they could be in trouble.
Russia's Best Player - Alexander Kerzhakov, Striker - Odd that he didn't start but made an immediate impact once he came in and scored Russia's only goal.
Russia's Worst Player - Igor Akinfeev, Goalkeeper - Let in a horrible goal that was reminiscent of Robert Green's horrible mistake in goal for England four years ago. Outside of that he looked extremely nervy in general, as he was making indecisive saves all game long.
What We Learned About South Korea - Korea put on an incredibly rounded performance against Russia, as they had to defend early, which they did well, but also broke into attack and had lots of possession throughout the middle part of the game. As Korea grew into the game, they started to gain attacking confidence and eventually got a bit of a lucky goal that came at the end of a great move. This was a well-deserved draw for Korea, who honestly looked the more likely team to win the game and will be confident entering their next game against Algeria.
South Korea's Best Player - Koo Ja-Cheol, Center Midfielder - Was very effective and fairly creative in possession, especially during the middle of the game when Korea dominated much of the ball.
South Korea's Worst Player - Son Heung-Min, Striker - Actually fairly decent in possession and at times one of the more inventive players on the pitch but was absolutely dreadful when it came to the final product.