World Cup: South Korea draw 1-1 in their opener against Russia

Lee Keun Ho

Lee Keun-Ho celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game.

South Korea was unable to hold onto their 1-0 lead and was forced to settle for a point against Russia.

South Korean manager, Hong Myung-Bo, opted to go with a youthful, inexperienced team, and may have been too much for them to handle in their first game. They did not have the composure in front of goal and missed chances that they would normally capitalize on.

Both teams had numerous chances in the first half, but were not able to break the deadlock. South Korea looked like the team to score first with plenty of energy from the midfield and the strikers, but they were not able to score let alone get it on target.

Son Heung-Min, Bayer Leverkusen and South Korea’s star striker, missed a great opportunity to open the scoring in the 11th minute. A great layoff pass by Park Chu-Young into the path of Son started the attack for the Koreans. Son had received the pass in the half way line, but was able to find acres of space to dribble all the way toward the edge of the box to fire a shot. Unfortunately, the shot went way over the crossbar, wasting a good opportunity for the Koreans.

South Korea then had some nervy moments when Russia kept on pressuring with their wing play. They crossed the ball in constantly, but were unable to find the back of the net with any of the services. Their great chance came when Sergey Ignashevich rifled a shot on a free-kick, resulting the keeper, Jung Sung-Ryong to make an awkward save.

The Korean skipper, Koo Ja-Cheol, also had a brilliant attempt on goal, after retrieving a loose ball in the midfield and firing a shot outside the box in the 34th minute. The Russian keeper, Igor Akinfeev, was rooted to the spot, but luckily for the Russians, the ball was deflected and out of play.

The Koreans threatened one last time before the half, when a long ball toward Park was headed down to Son at the edge of the box. The Bayer Leverkusen forward had a great angle for a shot on target, but once again he rifled it above the cross bar in the 39th minute. It was very unlike Son to miss the target that badly twice as he has scored numerous times for his club side, Bayer Leverkusen, at similar locations.

Son definitely looked like the only South Korean player to really threaten Russia, but his composure ultimately let him down.

The first half came to an end without a goal, but both teams looked determined to change the score line in the second half.

Russia threatened early with two attempts on goal right from the restart, but was unable to beat Jung in goal.

South Korea also tried to make things happen with back to back attempts on target with Koo and Ki Sung-Yeung forcing Akinfeev to make  difficult saves in the 48th and 51st minute respectively.

In need of fresh legs and  change the style of play for the Koreans, Hong decided to act first and brought in their super sub, Lee Keun-Ho, for Park in the 55th minute. Substitutes have made an instant impact off the bench during this World Cup having scored 10 out of the 49 goals scored total according to ESPNFC. This game was no different as the substitutes once again contributed off the bench.

Throughout the game Akinfeev’s handling has been questionable, and the Koreans kept pestering the Russian goalkeeper with long-ranged shots and pouncing on the rebound. Lee knowing this received a pass and advanced on goal in the 68th minute. He rifled a shot outside the box and what seemed like a routine save for the Russian goalkeeper misjudged and mishandled the ball, allowing the ball to go into the back of the net. Lee, at first, thought it was also a routine save, but was jubilant after seeing the ball in the back of the net. Their persistence paid off  for the Koreans as they kept  shooting the ball on target, making Akinfeev to make difficult stops.

Then it was Russia’s turn to make a change and the Russian manager, Fabio Capello, substituted Yury Zhirkov for the veteran striker, Alexander Kerzhakov, in the 71st minute. They attacked the inexperienced South Korean defense relentlessly and soon after their persistence also paid off.

Another Russian substitute, Alan Dzagoev, made an instant impact as well when he was able to receive a pass inside the box and got a shot off on target. Jung made a decent save to deny Dzagoev, but the rebound came right at Kerzhakov and slotted in the loose ball for the equalizer in the 74th   minute. An instant response by the Russians and the Korean defense paid the price as they were unable to clear the ball out of the box.

Russia had other attempts for the winner as they were clearly trying to go for all three points, but were unable to do so against the sturdy Korean defense.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but there are certainly question marks regarding this young South Korean team.

A 1-1 draw is a fitting end to an exciting game, but the Koreans should have put the game away. They paid the price for letting their foot off the gas after their first goal and inviting the Russians to attack. It seemed as though, the Koreans were content with getting a point off of this game after the Belgian result, but they should have tried to punish the attacking heavy Russians to finish off the game.

They also need to be more disciplined as three of their key players: Son, Ki, and Koo, all have been booked for silly challenges. They need to maintain their discipline as that can heavily affect their game plan moving forward if they are to get out of the group stages.

The Korean defense showed their inexperience and their refusal to continue to test Akinfeev led to them conceding the equalizer. The Koreans need to step up in their next game against Algeria on Sunday as a win is a must now if they are thinking about a draw on their last game against Belgium. Hong has the Koreans on the right path at the moment, but there are some issues that need to be addressed. Korea has to be more clinical in front of goal as well as keeping their composure, but also they need to improve on protecting the lead if they are to progress through the group stage.