South Korea vs. Belgium, 2014 World Cup preview: Koreans in need of a win

Julian Finney

South Korea need to pull off an upset and beat Belgium if they're to stand any chance of making the World Cup knockout stages.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

Belgium were seen as genuine contenders heading into the World Cup, though to date the Red Devils have been slightly underwhelming, despite sealing progression to the knockout stages by winning their first couple of games. They opened with an unconvincing comeback win over Algeria, before relying on some late brilliance from Eden Hazard to break a stubborn Russia down last time out.

The Red Devils' underperformance should come as a relief to their final group stage opponents South Korea, who have also failed to impress in their World Cup campaign to date. They sit rock bottom of the group heading into the final slate of fixtures, but know that a victory over Belgium could just be enough for them to sneak into second place, depending on how Algeria's game with Belgium pans out.

Team news

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has already revealed he'll be resting a couple of his most important first team regulars, with right-back Toby Alderweireld and central midfielder Axel Witsel both set to drop to the bench. There could be other changes, too, such as on-form teenager Divock Origi's battle with the off-form Romelu Lukaku for the lone striker role. The more rotations the better for South Korea, who should continue at full-strength.

Projected lineups (left to right)

Belgium (4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Jan Vertonghen, Nicolas Lombaerts, Vincent Kompany, Anthony Vanden Borre; Mousa Dembélé, Steven Defour, Kevin De Bruyne; Eden Hazard, Divock Origi, Dries Mertens.

South Korea (4-2-3-1): Jung Sung-Ryong; Yun Suk-young, Kim Young-gwon, Hong Jeong-ho, Lee Yong; Ki Sung-yueng, Han Kook-young; Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, Lee Chung-yong; Park Chu-young.

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Key matchups

Ki Sung-yueng vs. Belgium's defensive midfielder - One of South Korea's most important players is midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, who is owned by Premier League club Swansea City. Ki is excellent on the ball, and as such is charged with dictating his side's tempo and looking to slice through defenses with cutting through-balls. He's also the man largely responsible for servicing their most dangerous attacker, left winger Son Heung-min. If Belgium's midfield -- and in particular whichever player fills the Witsel role -- can keep him quiet, they'll have gone some way to nullifying Korea's attacking threat.

Eden Hazard's influence vs. Belgium's recent tactics - Without doubt Belgium are a team jam-packed with talent, but that Eden Hazard is the best of the bunch is patently obvious. That makes Belgium's tendency to marginalize him out on the left very strange, as he's at his best when he can drift inside and have more of an influence in the center of the pitch. It was him finding more freedom to come central that won Belgium the game against Russia. If Wilmots wants to get the best out of his greatest asset, perhaps he needs to start to look at how he's using him. Should Hazard be allowed more influence, South Korea will struggle to keep him quiet.

Prediction

Belgium haven't mathematically sealed the top spot, but they only need a point from this match to do so. That, combined with squad rotation and the fact they've already booked their spots in the knockout stages, means we're unlikely to see a full-on Red Devils performance. However, they should still be bothered enough to keep a pretty poor South Korea team from beating them. 1-1.

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