Russia 1 South Korea 1: Highlights and key battles
Published on Jun 18, 2014 8:52 AM
With Belgium the favourites for Group H, it is a race to finish second and grab that Round of 16 ticket.
Both teams are in transition. Fabio Capello is blooding a new generation based in Russia's domestic league while Hong Myung-bo has called up many of his former age-group players who reached the quarter-finals of the 2009 Under-20 World Cup and bronze in the 2012 Olympics.
While short of top-quality football action, the two teams made up for it with their battling qualities and a draw seemed like a fair result. But the question still remains: Who will finish second?
- After Guillermo Ochoa's heroics for Mexico against Brazil earlier, Russia's Igor Akinfeev, rated as one of the best goalkeepers in the world alongside Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer, was struck down with a serious case of Casillas-litis.
- Akinfeev, who had already spilled several shots with his greasy gloves, was finally punished in the 68th minute when striker Lee Kuen-ho hammered one from 30 metres out and the ball was fumbled into the net.
- But 31-year-old veteran striker Aleksander Kerzhakov scored within two minutes of coming on, sweeping home a loose ball in the 74th minute to earn a point for Russia.
Igor Akinfeev vs Son Heung-min
Nicknamed "Son-sation", the Bayer Leverkusen forward likes to make surging runs from deep before pulling the trigger from distance. So it was going to be duel against the goalkeeping of CSKA Moscow custodian Akinfeev.
Son embarassed himself with a wild punt in the first-half that nearly flew out of the Arena Pantanal but with his third attempt, finally wooed Lady Luck as the 'keeper fumbled.
Man of the Match
Realising that he is not coaching a top-quality European side, Capello centres his game plan around a packed midfield to nullify opponents but 25-year-old Koo Ja-cheol enhanced his reputation by taking the fight to the Russians.
Koo, who plays in the German Bundesliga for Mainz, showed shades of Park Ji-sung in an all-action performance as he constantly harassed the opponents and even made storming runs into Russian territory.
He is already regarded as one of the most complete midfielders in Asia and with more performances like this, he will go some way in emulating Park, arguably Korea's best player in the last decade.
What the result means
Asian teams have been disappointing in the World Cup so far. Australia and Japan lost to Chile and Ivory Coast respectively while Iran played a bore goalless draw against Nigeria. But South Korea rescued some pride with this creditable draw against Russia.
For the Russians, they must be disappointed not to get three points to give them that vital cushion ahead of next Monday's meeting with Belgium. Looking at Algeria's good display against the Red Devils, the north African side should never be dismissed as genuine contenders for second place in Group H.
The Koreans will face Algeria next and another draw will not be enough as they face Belgium in their final fixture.