Finishing off the 2014 World Cup’s opening set of fixtures is the crucial Group H clash between Russia and South Korea, with both teams chasing vital points in the race for the knockout stage.
As Belgium are expected to take three wins out of three in the group stage, the runners-up spot in Group H could all come down to Tuesday’s clash in Cuiaba.
With both teams desperate to avoid defeat at Arena Pantanal, a gritty, tense affair is expected as World Cup 2014’s drama continues to whet our appetite.
Venue: Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
Date: Tuesday 17 June
Time: 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One/ESPN
Russia Needing to Restore National Pride
Having failed to qualify for the last two World Cups, Fabio Capello’s Russia come into 2014’s tournament with a big point to prove.
Though they made it to Brazil by finishing top of their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, the Russians have endured a 12-year wait for World Cup football, and the players are keen to make up for lost time this summer.
Among those looking to impress is Russia’s sole survivor from the 2002 World Cup squad, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who expressed his desire to give fans something to celebrate in Brazil—per FIFA.com:
We want to make our long-suffering fans happy. Thanks to this World Cup, we have the opportunity to win over our supporters again and give them something to cheer about. I would have liked our supporters to have reacted with more excitement when we qualified by winning our group. Instead] there was an air of pessimism. Not among all the supporters, but among some, and that took us a bit by surprise. We expected more people to come to watch our matches prior to heading off for the World Cup, but what can we do? We will try to win them over with our performances here.
Though a veteran of the Russian international game, Kerzhakov still has what it takes to cut it at the highest level, as Opta Ivan’s statistic reveals:
6 - Aleksandr Kerzhakov has scored six goals for Russia under Fabio Capello, more than any other player. Poacher.— OptaIvan (@OptaIvan) June 4, 2014
However, the 31-year-old tends to play second fiddle to Aleksandr Kokorin in Capello’s system, leaving chances few and far between, but it’s a system that works for the Italian manager.
According to Soccerway, Russia haven’t tasted defeat since August 2013, winning seven out of 10 games during that fruitful spell.
Among those victories was a 2-1 friendly triumph over South Korea in Dubai, where the Russians came from behind to defeat Hong Myung-bo’s side.
With the South Koreans’ form dipping to an all-time low, it looks like history may repeat itself in Cuiaba on Tuesday.
As Soccerway’s statistics show, South Korea have lost five of their last seven matches and have failed to find the net in four of those defeats.
Their 4-0 hammering at the hands of Ghana in their final warm-up game before taking to Brazil rather summed up their luck of late, as they were outplayed from first minute to last by the highly rated Ghanaians.
That’s not through the lack of personnel at Hong’s disposal, though, with the proven talents of Park Chu-young and Ki Sung-yueng in their ranks, they just need to find a way to make individual talent come together as a unit.
They’ll be hoping that things finally click into place against the Russians, but with Capello’s well-organised structure, it’s difficult to envision much success for the Koreans.
With Belgium and Algeria still to come for Russia, kicking things off with a victory is imperative on their hunt for a place in the knockout stage, and while they’ll be wary of the South Korean threat, they should have what it takes to claim three points.
Prediction: Russia 2-0 South Korea