Russia holds key to Korea’s hopesWhen Korea was assigned to Group H with Belgium, Russia, and Algeria in the 2014 Brazil World Cup, fans and analysts said the draw was one of the best outcomes the Taegeuk Warriors could have wished for. But it looks like other nations have a similar idea, judging the Korean team as unlikely to pose much of a threat.
The question is: Can Korea defeat its opponents in the group? The Korea JoongAng Daily and Ilgan Sports have looked into each opponent coach Hong Myung-bo’s squad will face next June.
First up is world No. 22 Russia, under the leadership of Italian coach Fabio Capello, who has managed European clubs such as AS Roma, FC Juventus and Real Madrid.
“The match versus Russia will determine the Korean team’s fate,” said analyst Shin Mun-sun. “Algeria will be a relatively easy opponent, not only for us, but also for Belgium and Russia. If we predict that Belgium will advance to the second round as the winner of the group, the other second-round spot from the group will be decided by the match between Korea and Russia.”
Russia qualified for the preliminary round by winning Group F, which also contained Portugal, led by one of the world’s best scorers, Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid.
In 10 games, Russia’s record was seven wins, one draw and two losses with 22 earned points. The team scored 22 goals while giving up only five. This will be Russia’s first appearance since the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup.
Russia advanced to the quarterfinals in Euro 2008 and since then have been in a rebuilding phase, using young players from the country’s national league.
“Unlike Korean prospects, Russian players tend to stay in their own league because most of the teams in the league are able to give a high salary as they are owned by oil barons,” said defender Kim Dong-jin of Chinese team Hangzhou Greentown FC, who played with Russia’s FC Zenit for four years from 2007.
“It means that they know each other very well and perform at a high level of team-play football.”
Kim said Russia’s key player is 32-year-old captain Roman Shirokov of FC Zenit. He wasn’t one of the team’s best 11 members when Kim played at Zenit but has developed into a central midfielder who can control the game at club level and for the national team.
“For comparison, he is like Koo Ja-cheol on the Korean national team, who can score and distribute sharp passes to forwards,” Kim said. “There have been some changes in Russian football,” said Oh Beom-suk who played for Russia’s PFC Krylya Sovetov Samara from 2008-9. “When the team was managed by Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, they played Spanish style, but it looks like they play so-called kick-and-rush football under Capello.” In that Western Europe style, midfielders and defenders aggressively press opponents in the middle of the field and practice an offensive strategy of counterattack that starts with a long pass from defenders.
“Their defenders are hot tempered and robust physically,” Oh said. “It means our fullbacks need to help attackers, and speedy wingers like Lee Chung-yong and Son Heung-min need to penetrate into the opponent’s area. Their defenders are strong but slow.”
Coach Hong said he will collect any information he can to help defeat Capello’s squad through a variety of sources, not the least of which is former Korean national team coach Guus Hiddink of the Netherlands. Hiddink knows Russian football well, having managed the Russian national team from 2006-10 and Russian Premier League club FC Anzhi from February 2012 through July this year.
The match against Russia will be held in the Arena Pantanal at 7 a.m. June 18, Korea time. The stadium is about 1,100 kilometers (683.5 miles) from Foz do Iguacu, where the Korean team will stay during the World Cup, a flight of about two and a half hours.
BY KWON SANG-SOO, PARK RIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]