A nightmarish error from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev nearly sent his team to defeat in the opening match of Russia’s World Cup, but thanks to a quick response from substitute striker Aleksandr Kerzakhov, a team widely expected to advance out of Group G was able to salvage a result in Cuiabá, Brazil. Overcoming Lee Keun-Ho’s opening goal, Russia came back to draw with South Korea, the 1-1 result leaving both sides second in their World Cup group.
After a scoreless first half, Lee got his side on the board with a long-range shot that went through Akinfeev’s hands before inching over the goal line, giving the Koreans a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, Kerzhakov capitalized when the Koreans were unable to clear a rebound after an Alan Dazgoev shot. The veteran striker’s close-range finish left each side with one point after their first match at Brazil 2014.
Belgium’s 2-1 victory over Algeria earlier on Tuesday leaves the Red Devils at the top of Group G, with the packet’s second matches set to take place on Sunday. In Rio de Janeiro, Russia will try to ruin the Belgians’ perfect start, while South Korea heads south to face the Desert Foxes.
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The threat of the South Koreans’ speed and ball movement was evident early on, with the team’s occasional control in Russia’s defensive end giving Hong Myung-bo’s side chances to beat a stoic Russian defense. Unable to connect, Korea soon lost control of the game, with Russia’s response seeing Fabio Capello’s team control the middle part of the period. Though Korea reestablished itself by the end of the half, an initial 45 minutes that saw only one shot on target (a long range try from Sergei Ignashevich) ended as it started.
The momentum Korea regained at the end of the period resurfaced at the second half’s kickoff, with an early surge culminating when a hard Ki Sung-Yeung shot forced Afinkeev to spill his save in front of goal. Park Chu-Young was unable to get to the ball in time, but building on another try moments earlier, Korea had its first shots on target. Just as in the first half, Hong’s team had started strong.
In the 57th minute, Akinfeev had troubling handling another shot, but it wasn’t until the middle of the half that the keeper’s woes translated onto the scoresheet. On a speculative try from 20 yards out by Lee Keun-Ho went through the Russian’s gloves, crossing the goal line just inside the left post. In the 68th minute, Akinfeev’s nightmare was complete, allowing South Korea to go up, 1-0.
Six minutes later, his teammates responded. After breaking through the left side of the Korean defense, a shot on Jung Sung-Ryong led to a moment of chaos, with a failed clearance keeping play alive at the edge of the six-yard box. That’s where Kerzhakov, a surprise omission from the starting lineup, pulled Russia even. Turning on a ball near the right post, the veteran striker blasted home his team’s equalizer, leaving it 1-1 with 16 minutes left.
The time passed with a air of resignation, though a 94th minute chance for the Russians nearly saw the favorites steal full points. At full-time, however, both teams were left relieved. South Korea had taken a point from one of its main competitors for a second round spot, while Russia recovered from its goalkeeper’s howler.
Russia: Akinfeev, Ignashevich, Glushakov (Denisov 72′), Kokorin, Berezutskiy, Shatov (Dzagoev 59′), Zhirkov (Kerzhakov 71′), Samedov, Fayzulin, Eshchenko, Kombarov
Goals: Kerzhakov 72′.
South Korea: Jung, Yun, Y. Kim, Son (B. Kim 84′), Park (K. Lee 56′), Y. Lee, Koo, Han, Ki, C. Lee, Hong (Hwang 72′)
Goals: K. Lee 68′