The FourFourTwo Preview: Russia vs South Korea
Capello’s Cuiaba comeback.
Remember that Fabio Capello fella? The man who masterminded England’s utter capitulation at South Africa 2010 has been rewarded – or perhaps punished – with the task of transforming one of the drowsiest of Europe’s sleeping giants into a football force before they host the World Cup themselves in 2018.
This is only Russia’s third finals in six attempts, and they’ve never got out the group stages. They won’t have a better chance to break the hoodoo: Group H, also featuring Belgium and Algeria, is wide open. Capello’s men are – surprise, surprise – compact, well-drilled and defensively minded, but that seems to suit their personnel better than it did the Three Lions. Playing a heavily-perspiring, pressing 4-3-3, they have a sound spine – although they will desperately miss crocked captain Roman Shirokov – and some nice club combinations means there’s a familiarity to their play.
And South Korea? Now enjoying their eighth World Cup in a row, Hong Myong-bo’s men are a side in transition after a poor qualification campaign and, like Russia, graft and team spirit are their key assets. They’re probably the swiftest team in the tournament and can be bewitching going forward, but do seem to have a soft underbelly, with dubious full-backs and goalkeeper, and haven’t been convincing in recent friendlies.
Still, they won’t lose for want of trying. Expect no quarter to be given in a 90 minutes that will definitely feature a lot of frantic running around, if nothing else.
What the local media say
“Korea are disappointing at the moment. The attitude is not where it should be, and if we carry on like this we will not qualify for the last 16. Russia have the best chance of second place after Belgium.” Jang Hang Kim, Sports Chosun Korea.
Key battle: Igor Denisov vs Son Heung-min
Russia’s defence is effective because their midfield three so often snuff out creative players before they can even reach the back four. Spiky midfield captain Shirokov did act as Russia’s Roy Keane – prickly, non-stop, and his team’s midfield heartbeat – and his failure to recover from injury pre-tournament was a major blow. Equally gnarly middleman Denisov will thus grow in importance, and he’ll need to summon all his powers – without getting sent off – to shackle Korea’s talisman Son Heung-min. The “Sonsation” is a lightening quick forward who often drops deep into Denisov’s zone of influence and looks to run at defenders and supply killer balls.
Facts and figures
- Russia have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 6 World Cup games, it was against Tunisia on 5 June 2002 (2-0).
- South Korea have only won 2 of their last 10 World Cup games (against Togo in 2006 and Greece in 2010).
- South Korea have scored the most direct free-kicks in the World Cup since 1990 (5).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Russia to edge out a side struggling for form, 1-0.