South Korea, coached by Hong Myung-bo, on Sunday arrived in Cuiaba in the central-west region of Brazil, the site of its first Group H match against Russia. The match will kick off at 6 p.m. at Arena Pantanal.
Ahead of the team’s first practice here, defensive back Lee Yong said it will take more than just a physical edge to defeat Russia.
“Russia is a strong team and the players are also mentally tough,” Lee told reporters at the practice facility set up inside the Federal University of Mato Grosso.
“We’re going to have to be mentally ready to have a good game.”
The Ulsan Hyundai defender was responding to a question about whether the Russian players might have a difficult time adjusting to the humid conditions of Cuiaba.
South Korea trained in Miami for about two weeks starting in late May to help players get acclimated to a similar climate, while Russia trained mostly at home before coming to Brazil and will only arrive in Cuiaba on Monday.
South Korea will face Algeria and then Belgium in the group stage, but Lee said his team is not looking past the opening match.
“For now, we’re not thinking about playing Algeria or Belgium,” Lee said. “We have to first beat Russia to take a major step toward the round of 16. We’re doing our best to prepare against Russia.”
|Korea’s Lee Yong speaks to the media on Sunday. (Yonhap)|
Lee also noted that Russia is “a very well-organized team” that can apply strong defensive pressure.
“We will have to be careful handling the ball,” the 27-year-old said. “We must avoid making mistakes.”
Lee will be making his World Cup debut in Brazil and is a strong candidate to be the main right fullback. He appeared in his first international match last July at the East Asian Cup in Seoul and has played in 12 of 16 matches coached by Hong, who took the reins last summer.
Han focuses on teammates
South Korean midfielder Han Kook-young has such a single-minded focus on the World Cup that he isn’t thinking of anything or anyone else ― including his family.
“I am putting everything I have into the World Cup,” the 24-year-old said Sunday, after South Korea held its first practice in Cuiaba, where South Korea will face Russia.
“So I am only thinking about the World Cup,” he added.
“To be honest, I am not even missing my parents.”
As he prepares for his first World Cup, the hardworking midfielder is more concerned about making his teammates better.
“We have to win the battle in midfield to make life easier for the defenders,” the Kashiwa Reysol midfielder said. “I will try to dominate the opposition in the middle. I will also try to cover a lot of ground and cover for my teammates (defensively).”
Han has been South Korea’s unsung hero of late, one of few bright spots in recent losses thanks to his tireless work ethic, defensive acumen and tackling prowess.
Han has been a perfect foil to fellow midfielder Ki Sung-yueng.
When Ki ventures out in front to join the attack, Han is asked to cover Ki’s back defensively. Han said the job description suits him just fine.
“I think we’ve developed better rapport over time,” Han said.
“My job is to make him better and help him play more comfortably.”
Though Han may not be a flashy player, his accomplishments have not been lost on astute fans, who have dubbed him the “New Vacuum Cleaner.”