Key Battles That Will Shape Russia's Clash with South Korea
Having qualified for Brazil 2014 on goal difference a year ago, South Korea will finally get their tournament underway against Russia on Tuesday.
Hong Myung-bo’s side secured their place at the finals by the slimmest of margins, with a solitary goal separating them from Uzbekistan in AFC Group A.
With a respectable record at football’s top table in recent years, the Taegeuk Warriors made the semi-finals of the competition in 2002 and reached the knockout stages for the first time on foreign soil in 2010.
So as they prepare to do battle once more, Bleacher Report takes a look at some of the key battles that could have a bearing on their Group H clash with Fabio Capello’s men.
Kim Young-gwon vs. Aleksandr Kokorin
Alongside his fellow centre-back and long-term defensive partner Hong Jeong-ho, Kim Young-gwon will hold the key when it comes to keeping the Russians quiet in Cuiaba.
The pair have played together since they were youth players, and having starred at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup, they will be an obstacle to Capello’s forward line.
South Korea boss Hong Myung-bo has used the duo in the majority of his games in charge, and he is likely to hand them the task of keeping Aleksandr Kokorin at bay.
Domestically, Kim is managed by former Italy supremo Marcello Lippi at Guangzhou Evergrande, and he has been tipped for a move to the Premier League by the legendary 66-year-old, via The Guardian.
Ki Sung-yueng vs. Russia’s Deep-Lying Midfielder
Fabio Capello still has some big decisions to make ahead of Tuesday’s Group H opener—none more so than reshaping his engine room in Roman Shirokov’s absence.
The influential midfielder pulled out during the buildup due to a knee injury, and it remains to be seen who Capello trusts to replace the experienced 32-year-old.
Whoever gets the nod—and it could be Rubin Kazan youngster Pavel Mogilevets—they’ll need to effectively deal with the vision and runs of Ki Sung-yueng behind South Korea’s forwards.
Son Heung-min vs. Russia’s Ageing Centre-Backs
There’s no doubt Russia possess a wealth of experience at the back, with CSKA Moscow pair Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich boasting over 170 international caps between them.
But in South Korea’s armoury, the pace and awareness of Son Heung-min will give them plenty to think about in Cuiaba on Tuesday.
The Bayer Leverkusen man has enjoyed a fruitful term in the Bundesliga, netting 12 goals and providing seven assists in all competitions. He is a two-footed forward with a fierce shot.
At 21, his youth and enthusiasm could unsettle 31-year-old Berezutski and 34-year-old Ignashevich, and he will be integral to his country’s high-energy, counterattacking style.
Jung Sung-ryong vs. Russia’s Newly Adopted Style
With Shirokov missing, Capello could well adapt his system and look to his wide players to influence proceedings against South Korea. And that could spell bad news for goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.
The likes of Oleg Shatov and Dmitri Kombarov could be given license to bombard the South Korean penalty area from the flanks, meaning a tough shift for the Suwon Bluewings stopper.
Notoriously dubious on crosses, the 29-year-old was dropped earlier this year in favour of Kim Seung-gyu, but he is expected to wear the gloves in South America this summer.
And if he is to help his team qualify for the knockout stages, he’ll need to work overtime to quash the suspicion that South Korea’s weak link is between the posts.