Two well-organised, hard-working sides from different continents met in Cuiaba, and the points were shared after a 1-1 draw. A quiet opening 45 minutes did the tournament goal average no favours, with very little goalmouth action, but in the second half a football match threatened to break out as both teams opened up and showed more adventure. Igor Akinfeev's howler allowed Lee Keun-Ho to open the scoring, before veteran Aleksander Kerzhakov spared his keeper's blushes with an equaliser. It ended 1-1.
The game got off to a subdued start as both teams put the feelers out in an attempt to get some read on the opponent. Russia's team shape was very much built around getting out wide and whipping in crosses - they played a high line and looked to assert themselves in midfield. South Korea, meanwhile, sat deep and looked to counter-attack with the pace and cutting edge of Son Heung-Min.
In the 11th minute a dangerous counter-attack from South Korea nearly yielded the opening goal. Son Heung-Min went clear, not clean through but a good opening nonetheless. He should have done better, however, and blasted his effort well over. Russia began with very little emphasis on play down the middle, looking wide at every opportunity. However, their early crossing was poor, in complete contrast to South Korea who, well, didn’t cross at all:
By contrast, Russia’s dribbling was totally without success while South Korea managed a 100% early dribble success rate, thanks to Ki Sung-Yueng (1/1) and Son Heung-Min (2/2):
It was a game of few incidents, a tentative start from both sides, and it took until the 31st minute for the first shot on target - a long range free-kick rocket from Sergei Ignashevich, held well by South Korea keeper Jung Sung-Ryong. It was the first half's only shot on target.
Son Heung-Min was South Korea’s most enterprising player in the first half, showing skill and drive, but rather than score he seemed to be trying to career a commemorative Brazuca up to a mate of his in Row Z. His end product was woeful. Aleksandr Samedov, Sergei Ignashevich and Viktor Faizulin were prominent for Fabio Capello's side, while Oleg Shatov and Yuri Zhirkov were below par in midfield.
For South Korea, Arsenal's Park Chu-Young and Swansea's Ki Sung-Yueng were influential, though Park was quiet despite creating the most chances of any player. South Korea were also dominant in the air.
Park was taken off early in the second half, unfortunately for the Arsenal man, and a prominent feature of the early part of the second period was Russia's fouling. Keeper Igor Akinfeev struggled from long shots, both from set-pieces and open play, and dropped two of them. Poor handling from the 28-year-old, and he was lucky not to be punished... for the time being.
Russia made a number of fouls down South Korea’s left hand side, but they failed to punish them from the resulting set-pieces despite Akinfeev having the shakes. But the game was more open and both keepers were forced into saves - quite unlike the first half.
In the 68th minute South Korea took the lead. Akinfeev’s dreadful handling was finally punished by Lee Keun-Ho whose long shot was palmed into the net by the Russian keeper’s butter fingers. The warning signs had been there, and Keun-Ho did well to capitalise on this, though his effort really should have been saved comfortably. Red-faced, Akinfeev looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up.
Five minutes later, however, a hero came to his rescue in the form of veteran striker Aleksander Kerzhakov. Within three minutes of coming on as a substitute for the disappointing Yuri Zhirkov, the 31-year-old pounced on a loose ball to grab an equaliser with his first touch.
Kerzhakov, along with fellow sub Alan Dzagoev, had a positive impact off the bench, as fresh legs proved influential in this tournament once more.
As the game wore on, the muggy conditions in Cuiaba affected the tempo. Both teams visibly tired, fatigued muscles tightened and the game was paused to help ease cramp. Russia did more of the pressing towards the end as South Korea sat ever deeper in an attempt to cling to the point.
In the end, though, with the possession percentages, corner count, number of interceptions and shots on target all even between the two teams, it was perhaps fair that the scoreline was all square too. 1-1 it finished. Watching from their hotel, Algeria will feel they've been handed a lifeline in what is a wide open group.
Facts and figures
- Aleksandr Kerzhakov has now joined Vladimir Beschastnykh as joint-top goalscorer for Russia with 26 goals
- Kerzhakov had been on the field for 3 minutes and 16 seconds when he scored Russia’s equaliser.
- Russia have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 7 World Cup games, it was against Tunisia on June 5 2002 (2-0).
- 7 of the last 8 World Cup goals shipped by Russia have come in the second half.
- South Korea have kept just 1 clean sheet in their last 10 World Cup fixtures.
- Russia’s last 8 World Cup strikes have come after half-time.
- South Korea have only won 2 of their last 11 World Cup games (against Togo in 2006 and Greece in 2010).
- Including games played as the Soviet Union, this is Russia’s first draw in 12 World Cup games (W4 L7).
- It is the first time in 4 World Cups that South Korea haven’t kicked off with a win.
- Both teams have scored in 7 of South Korea’s last 9 World Cup games.