Korea got off relatively lightly in the group draw for the 2014 World Cup in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil on Friday, but officials from all four teams seemed more than content with the result, even joking later that Group "H" stands for four "happy" teams.
Korea was paired with Algeria, Belgium and Russia. World No. 11 Belgium is the highest-ranked team in the group, while Russia is ranked 22nd, Algeria 26th and Korea 54th.
Korea's first match in the World Cup finals will be against Russia, which beat Korea in a friendly game last month. After the draw, Russia manager Fabio Capello described Korea as being a physically strong opponent, but added there are no easy groups as all teams are playing at the highest level.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said Korea is similar to Japan in that the players are speedy and skillful, but that the team overall is not quite as good as its neighboring country.
Meanwhile, Vahid Halilhodžić, who coaches the Algerian national team, said he was impressed with how Korea performed at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, especially in terms of passing and speed.
Luck seems to have favored Korea as it avoided traditional powerhouses such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain. However, due to the lack of any one dominant team, it could end up being neck-and-neck throughout the group stage, meaning that Korea could be eliminated early even it performs well.
"It is daunting to have to face Russia in our first match as the country is in strong form. We should focus our energy on the second game against Algeria." Huh Jung-moo, vice chairman of the Korea Football Association. Huh led Korea to the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup when he served as manager.
ESPN predicted that Belgium and Russia, which are both making their first appearance at a World Cup final in 12 years, will advance from the group.
Belgium is regarded as one of the dark horses of this World Cup. Aided by young stars like Christian Benteke of Aston Villa, Eden Hazard of Chelsea and Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United, it topped Group A in the European preliminaries.
Russia, led by Italy's Capello, has a strong team that knows how to play well together despite a lack of world-class players.
Groups A, B, D, and G are considered the toughest among the draw. Group A consists of Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico. Australia, Chile, the Netherlands and Spain make up Group B. Group D has Costa Rica, England, Italy and Uruguay, and Group G comprises Germany, Ghana, Portugal and the U.S.
Japan was placed in Group C with Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Greece.