Feb 14

PWC14: Group H Match 1 (Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea)

Pop World Cup 201423 comments • 3,400 views

ggen The last of our 32 teams take the global pop stage, including South Korea, a side whose profile has rarely been higher – after a strong showing in the 2010 tournament, could this be their year? Iain Mew is in the managerial hotseat. Trying to stop him are Katherine St Asaph’s Algeria, Chelovek Na Lune’s Russia, and Belgium, managed by Glynn.

Before kick-off, though, a minute’s applause in memory of our FT friend – and former Algeria boss – Martin Skidmore. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Pop World Cup concept, never missed a vote, and was especially passionate about the Algeria side he steered in the 2010 competition. We still miss him enormously, across every aspect of the site and well beyond. Thanks Martin, once again, for your unflagging support for others’ projects as well as all your own excellent ideas.

4 tracks, 2 votes – the choice is yours, below the cut.

BELGIUM: Stromae – “Tous Les Memes”

“While their football team somehow quietly became one of the best in Europe whilst noone was looking, Belgium’s pop charts in recent years haven’t been quite so healthy, instead providing a glimpse of a dystopian world where Electroclash never died. With big names Deus (metatarsal) and Soulwax (groin) out of contention, its fallen to Stromae, a flair player with your nan’s haircut and a great line in slinky little Europop gems like this one, to pick up the slack. I still can’t decide if hes Belgium’s Bowie or their Mika, but hes certainly not boring.

Here he is dispensing wisdom on a gondola.”

ALGERIA: Cheb Houssem ft. Cheb Dalila – “Aatini la reponse”

“Algerian-Parisian rai with a lush foundation — it’s got Everything But the Girl, one might say — and a meandering groove. Note the autotune (it’s hard not to); its use in Algerian and Moroccan music predates its T-Pain-led U.S. counterparts by several years and interlocks with the genre’s traditional glissando to striking effect.”

RUSSIA: Polina Gagarina – “Spektakl’ okonchen”

“The Russian Federation selection squad have hunted high and low across our many time zones and diverse regions for the most skilled, most inventive players, in order that we may receive our just desserts, in this World Cup of Popularness. To start with we have resolved to take an unpretentious, un-hipster (even nye-stilyaga), classic, back to basics, ochen khorosho, no-nonsense, purely pop, approach. For our recipe, we have the vital ingredients of: a fine song (written by one of nash leading pop songwriters, Konstantin Meladze); and a singer with the stunningmost of stunning voices, Polina Gagarina. She initially came to public attention by winning one of those TV talent show series some years back, but shunned the path of easy and unchallenging fame to take her own route to artistry. That said she did return recently with a part in a televised “Russia vs Ukraine” singing contest: naturally (there can be no doubt about this) Russia won, as no other way would have been permitted. The video of this song is filmed in Ukraine none the less, as those of you familiar with its capital city may recognise. She has sung in the Kremlin, in Abkhazia, even in London’s Trafalgar Square. With Slavic Brotherhood and the Best of Eurasian Pop this tournament too shall be ours. Happy End. Spasibo.[/sinister Russian accent]”

SOUTH KOREA: Girls’ Generation – “I Got A Boy”

“At the time of the last World Cup, K-Pop was barely starting to come to wider attention. Things have changed. In the last couple of years we’ve had Korean acts scoring UK number ones, appearing on will.i.am albums and winning international awards, and our team may have lost somewhat of an element of surprise. We’re starting off with the winner of the 2013 YouTube award for best video regardless though, relying on the force and tactical fluidity of Girls’ Generation’s play to win through.”


H1: Which TWO Tracks Do You Pick?

  • SOUTH KOREA: Girls' Generation 68%
  • BELGIUM: Stromae 58%
  • RUSSIA: Polina Gagarina 32%
  • ALGERIA: Cheb Houssem ft Cheb Dalila 30%

Total Voters: 66

Poll closes: 24 Feb 2014 @ 12:00

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Champions Nigeria get their PWC defense off to the best possible start, with Tiwa Savage netting 3 points from Group F. It was still a closely fought group, with Iran (2 points) and Argentina (1 point) also grabbing votes. A baptism of fire for debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina, though – 0 points and a tactical rethink probably needed. Well done to all managers and see you in the second batch of games!


  1. 1
    Tom on 17 Feb 2014 #

    A bold (and I hope intentional) decision by the Belgium manager to submit the team talk and chalkboard as part of the entry. Here’s the official video, in case you want to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAMWdvo71ls

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 17 Feb 2014 #

    Belgium win fans with their idiosyncratic frontman calling the shots but sticking to the channels makes them vulnerable to more organised opponents.
    Algeria are a tight unit but lack a convincing attacking player willing to cut through defences.
    Russia play with passion and power – combined with some precise set plays that carve open the opposite defence.
    South Korea may be one of the most versatile teams I’ve seen this tournament, able to switch up the pace in the wink of an eye. Players maintain a tight formation throughout and the team score with ease.

  3. 3
    Tom on 17 Feb 2014 #

    I think this is one of those matches where every single team plays pretty much exactly like you’d expect (and maybe hope) them to play. So my vote comes down to a question of which set of tactics I prefer, as much as the execution.

    Glad to see Stromae get a game for Belgium – he’s an enormous and intriguing star, and one I keep meaning to investigate further, as there’s no real equivalent in British pop right now (unsurprisingly, since Brel-esque theatrical pop mostly got transmitted here via Bowie, and wasn’t among the bits of Bowie picked up by most imitators). Anyway! This is a very likeable track, which might struggle in a very high-quality group as Stromae keeps stopping to give stepover tutorials to the fans in the front row.

    Algeria are Algeria: this is how they play, I happen to like it a lot, others don’t. Possession pop football with attacks building continuously from midfield: once you’re attuned to the side’s rhythms it’s hypnotic.

    Wintry Slavic melodrama from Russia. I don’t keep much of an eye on the Russian domestic leagues so I don’t know whether comparing this striker to probably Russia’s most famous strike partnership of the modern era is corny or apt – anyway, it reminds me of t.A.T.u. and that is almost always going to be enough to grab a vote.

    South Korea’s tactical flexibility is awe-inspiring but for me they play as if they’re in an exhibition match – “where’s the passion, ladies?” shouts my inner Big Ron. One formation change too many and a minute or so too long, for all its technical brilliance.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 17 Feb 2014 #

    unlike previous matches, I can currently see the individual team voting scores/percentages

  5. 5
    Tom on 17 Feb 2014 #

    Oops, I forgot to stick a marker on the end of the poll title. Should be OK now!

  6. 6
    @dubstar78 on 17 Feb 2014 #

    gran gran fecha del pop world cup, con el imparable “Spektakl’ okonchen”: http://t.co/LGdCICGHux

  7. 7
    Iain Mew (@iainmew) on 17 Feb 2014 #

    SNSD are 1st up for my Korean Pop World Cup team. Please listen & vote for your two favourites, whichever they are! http://t.co/OgVMLWl05g

  8. 8
    koganbot on 17 Feb 2014 #

    Tom, I have some of the same reservations you have about “I Got A Boy,” but SNSD most certainly aren’t playing how I’d “expect”: Even though it was preceded by mindfucks like G-Dragon’s “Crayon,” when “I Got A Boy” came out I’d never heard a track like it from anywhere, ever, much less a song that hit number one. It’s been flabbergasting me for over a year now. I’d heard “Good Vibrations” and “I Am The Walrus” and “Whole Lotta Love” in their time, and they hadn’t seemed half so strange. And maybe it helped that I’d already seen hip-hop DJs do their stuff live, but “Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” and “Pump Up The Volume” were readily comprehensible as montages, collages, proto-mashups. Whereas “I Got A Boy” manages to be a coherent song (or something) that’s nonetheless four different songs that reference each other and lift parts from each other without coming close to repeating one another or having anything resembling verses and choruses and AABAs. It’s awesome, the chutzpah and the arrogance. If they were guys I’d say Girls’ Generation were sticking their dick in my face. I tried diagramming it (the song, not my face, if there’s a difference) at the Jukebox without much success. Maybe one of you will have a clearer view. The track is undeniable, though part of me wants to resist (I rated nice compliant pop song “Love&Girls” higher on my EOY list); I like the other three tracks here too so maybe I’ll find a way to deny this one. I don’t know.

  9. 9
    Alan on 17 Feb 2014 #

    K-snap, k-crackles, k-pop playing so mercilessly here you may have to look away. The Russian entry couldn’t be more my thing if it had “This is my thing” written on it, and be in my actual possession. But at the end of the day they lose possession to an exuberant steal from the proudly waltzing Belgian.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 17 Feb 2014 #

    Belgium play confidently with their lone striker. Instantly likeable, although the interruptions took a little getting used to, once they got going, there was enough momentum and goodwill from the officials to carry them through. Stromae deserves further investigation, I reckon.

    Algeria play a tried and trusted formula, that will either have you on your feet cheering or despairing for the future of the Algerian game. In my humble opinion, Autotune hasn’t been ruined by mid-00s R&B, but Brian The Confused Robot. The Algerians won’t care about that, but they lose out this round.

    The Russians must be tired of being considered the Dark Horses every time a new tournament comes around. So no surprise when they put a powerful striker up front who plays as if their life depended on scoring. Despite all this passion on the pitch, they’re wrong-footed at every turn by…

    South Korea, who turn up the heat and the pressure as the match progresses. Lots of intricate passing, Cruyff turns, step-overs, bicycle kicks, defence-splitting passes…there’s almost too much going on in this match, like the PWC version of the Harlem Globetrotters, but despite the showboating, they know plenty of routes to goal. I only hope they can keep up this pace as the tournament progresses.

  11. 11
    @DominicHeaneyUK on 17 Feb 2014 #

    Russia’s great entry in Freaky Trigger Pop World Cup appears 2b in the real group of death http://t.co/6emtDz9o4i High quality competition!

  12. 12
    lartsaegis on 18 Feb 2014 #

    If I was a betting man, the standings for this round would be as follows:

    1. S.Korea
    2. Belgium
    3. Russia
    4. Algeria

    But here’s my order:

    Belgium’s style and sort of playful grace was pretty mesmerizing and appealing — a bit of a tactical error on the part of the manager to give us that song’s playbook — but the video for the song Tom posted is a bit of a brilliant metawork anyway, always good to know there’s more than meets the eye in pop, especially for Stromae — a great introduction to his work.

    S.Korea have the “odd song out” of this group, although it’s the most essentially pop of all. I remember seeing this video being played on a projection screen in a korean BBQ place and being just overloaded by the song — I didn’t know how to process it then, and I still don’t — but I think it’s a great example of the risks one takes when trying to break a mold, especially within the deeply ossified cast of pop, and though it has this “hard to turn away” attraction – repulsion to how the song executes, it DOES manage to succeed, by the hem of its shortie-short jeans. Koganbot really sort of already talked about how I feel about the song. Put this up against BiS’ entry, and I’m sure the latter would have an easier time winning with a more normal formula.

    Russia makes me put my Eurovision goggles on, and I like the view enough, a consistent, fine performance, a fine singer, — nothing to write my babuschka about though. The song is a good look out there, but lacking the flair that a refined funk Belgium puts on display for us today, or the ambition that S.Korea has. Looking forward to perhaps facing off against them down the line.

    Algeria made me dance for three minutes until I realized that the song wasn’t going much of anywhere or going to change much (and it didn’t) — and I sort of fell out of the spell it put out on me in the early going, and it did the same for more the more savvy, nuanced competitors.

  13. 13
    Garry on 18 Feb 2014 #

    South Korea sounds like they are trying to reconcile conflicting tactics from the manager, assistant manager, the FA and the press. Or else there are major splits in the dressing room with the various star players trying to assert themselves. Everyone is technically brilliant but the other teams just worry about their own tactics and plough through the muddle.

    Algeria and Russia are hard to split though the Russians have the edge in the final third. Both teams are certain of their roles and produce strong, uncomplicated performances able to withstand most things thrown at them.

    But neither could counter the footballing lesson given to them by Belgium. While their previous friendly outing (as provided by Tom) was full of quick interchanges, they have distilled their game on the day into one devastating and crucial attack.

    (As an aside, Youtube is full of Ivory Coast music videos, as well as their paired Demo versions where the song plays while we see the dancers being arranged, crew scurrying about and the stars practicing their moves. I’m not sure any other countries do this: Belgium here is not quite the same thing as this is a completely different video unconnected to the official version.)

  14. 14
    Erithian on 18 Feb 2014 #

    Now this is more like it! Good strong group, although Algeria’s lack of variety hinders them somewhat. At the other extreme the Korean formation is like watching City and Liverpool’s forward lines joining forces and coming at you with a point to prove, but will they trip each other up while they’re about it? One imagines Kim Jong-un watching through his binoculars from a hillside overlooking the stadium, with a perplexed expression.
    But Stromae is the star of the round for me – stylish, endearing and funny, and you don’t always combine those. A fine Russian performance edges the second vote.

  15. 15
    Tom on 18 Feb 2014 #

    Incidentally, Stromae is the only PWC contestant whose videos I have seen in a marketing conference presentation. Unfortunately the presentation itself was in Dutch, which I don’t speak, but I think the gist was “If you want to understand THE YOUNG PEOPLE, listen to this fella”. (The song was “Formidable”, another of his recent pan-European smashes)

  16. 16
    Matt DC on 18 Feb 2014 #

    Belgium are behind almost immediately as a dodgy backpass from the frontman sees the ball right in their own net, and it takes a while for them to get back into the game, but some good work from the horn section sees them back in contention here.

    Astonishing play from Algeria though, full of energy where they might otherwise lack technique, but that autotune blends so well with the frantic synth clouds that they’re an easy win for me.

    Russia are disappointing to me, predictable and straightforward play that might work in the Eurovision Conference but not at this level. Nul points.

    So it’s between Belgium and South Korea for the final vote, the SK one takes a while to get going but some good work by a ridiculous high pitched synth and plenty of surprises in their play mean the girls win out, this time.

  17. 17
    Glynn on 19 Feb 2014 #

    “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

    Sun Tzu (or Brian Clough, one of them, I forget).

    Yeah, I did notice there was a proper video too (which is worth a watch) but I thought you probably got a better sense of the dude from his boat bit. It may break up the flow of the game, but then we can’t all be Barca.

  18. 18
    Kat (@katstevens) on 19 Feb 2014 #

    Group H of the Pop World Cup is a corker – hard to pick my 2 favourites http://t.co/5LH9kuqY1e

  19. 19
    Kat but logged out innit on 24 Feb 2014 #

    Bad luck Algeria! I had their circular tactics whizzing round my head for most of last week. Russia were my other vote in the end – South Korea had moments of brilliance but lost my attention in places, and I still haven’t forgiven Stromae for the sad seagull incident.

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 18 Mar 2014 #

    with the teams in Group H in the changing rooms ahead of their second match the Belgian team discuss tactics here in a strange case of life imitating art imitating life

  21. 21
    Tom on 18 Mar 2014 #

    The floodlights were faulty but play will begin tonight!

  22. 22
    Garry on 19 Mar 2014 #

    Here’s one of the many, many CIV entries in the “Let’s Sing About the National Team” competition appearing in shadow of the PWC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_RpJi0eoF4

  23. 23
    Tom on 19 Mar 2014 #

    Floodlights repaired but now there’s a dog on the pitch.

    (i.e. I stayed out too late at a conference party – sorry all players)

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