By Jack Williams
This series first appeared in the World Cup Issue of 8by8mag, available now.
Russia: Alan Dzagoev
Extremely agile with the ball at his feet, Dzagoev made his debut for the Russian national side when he was just 18, in 2008 -- the same year he was voted the Russian Premier League's best young player. Dzagoev, now 23, also made an impressive showing in Euro 2012, finishing as the joint top scorer, but his performances have been a little sporadic since. Defensively well drilled, Russia lack a goal-scoring threat, so the CSKA Moscow man could prove key come the tournament.
Algeria: Sofiane Feghouli
An attacking midfielder or winger, Feghouli has many admirers in European football -- including one Arséne Wenger, who referred to the Valencia man as "exceptional" and "a beast." An accomplished dribbler with a galvanic burst of pace, Feghouli, 24, has picked up two Algerian Player of the Year awards, having initially represented France at the youth level. Algeria will meet more established football nations Belgium, Russia, and South Korea in their group, which could prove difficult.
Belgium: Jan Vertonghen
Part of a squad that has been dubbed Belgium's Golden Generation, the ball-playing center back looks likely to start alongside Vincent Kompany in the heart of defense. Vertonghen, a fan of a ping from long range, will be surrounded by a team of technically sound wunderkinder, who have helped propel the nation up more than 50 world ranking spots over the past five years. Those in Brussels have every right to remain quietly confident of a good tournament.
South Korea: Son Heung-Min
Since arriving at Bayer Leverkusen for around $13 million, the pacey, two-footed striker has posted a good but not great number of goals for his club. Still only 21, though, Son, who can also play as a second striker, has his nation's future hopes riding on his shoulders. South Korea have gone out at the group stage in six of their eight World Cup appearances. No one expects a repeat of their 2002 semifinal exploits, with the nation currently outside the world's top 50 and lacking players in Europe.
Download a free preview of the 8by8 mag World Cup issue here.
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