With less than 24 hours to kickoff, the South Korean World Cup team’s biggest hurdle to overcome now is to stay focused in order to avoid defeat, head coach Hong Myung-bo noted on Monday.
Hong said that in many previous matches, goals were generally scored early on in the first half. Attackers would barrel through an inattentive defense, as was seen when Ghana trounced Korea 4-0 in their final World Cup friendly on June 9.“What is most important for us is concentration,” said Hong at a press conference on the eve of Korea’s World Cup opener against Russia, with team captain Koo Ja-cheol at his side.
“The first match will set the tone and it does impact the rest of the matches, and of course we would like to win the first match. But we want to make sure we play a game that we don’t lose.”Over the past month, Korea has put its opening match with Russia narrowly in its crosshairs, scrutinizing every player while picking apart its own faults and defeats to strategize how to handle the No. 19-ranked team’s offense.
The Korean side has taken care to fill their “empty spots” to be fully ready for Tuesday’s opening game, Hong noted.One such hole is its weakness in creating scoring opportunities, a problem that had been eclipsed by a critically brittle defense. Korea has delivered just three goals in six games this year while letting past 11.
In other words, Korea conceded as many goals in the past two World Cup friendlies alone as Russia’s team did throughout its 10 qualifying matches.“Up until now the players have made a lot of efforts but we haven’t been able to make any goals, that is true. But we do look forward to them making goals in the main matches,” Hong said. \
“Not only that but there are other aspects which the players have to focus on, so I hope that each one of them will concentrate on fulfilling their roles and positions.”Earlier in the day, Russia’s coach Fabio Capello noted that his own preparations were a bit different. While he did not concern his team with knowing the names of each Korean player as the Koreans have done, he said they would glean off their experience with the team in last year’s friendly, when Russia topped Korea 2-1.
The best thing for them was to come into the match in excellent condition, as its opponents would be well prepared both tactically and physically, he said.
Captain Koo Ja-cheol, who led the U-23 national team to the bronze medal in the 2012 London olympics, said this pressure isn’t new to them -- 12 of the young 23-man squad went to London, and five had gone to the South Africa World Cup in 2010.
He said that since arriving and training in Brazil, the reality has hit them, and everything down to getting their dog tags was amping them up for the big day.
“Tomorrow is the first game for us, and the process up until now has not been easy. We have been on the pitch and we have experienced a lot of difficulties, but we know what we have to do,” said Koo. “I think we are concentrating on what we have been preparing for, and that’s what we will show tomorrow on the pitch.
”The last two teams to take the World Cup stage, Russia and South Korea make their debut in Group H on Tuesday (Wednesday 5 a.m. local time). Following its opener in Cuiaba, Korea will meet Algeria in Porto Alegre on June 22, while Russia heads to Rio de Janeiro to take on Belgium.
Russia's new captain: ‘100% prepared’ for Korea faceoff
Russia’s new captain Vasily Berezutskiy said Monday he was 100 percent prepared for Russia and South Korea’s World Cup opener in Brazil.
Anticipation is high for Russia’s Tuesday opener with Korea, which ends its 12-year World Cup drought four years before it hosts the World Cup.
“I am 100 percent prepared (for Tuesday’s match),” said Berezutskiy at a press conference Monday. “There are no weak teams here, this is the World Cup. We are going to play as good as we can and we will wait and see what the results will be.”
Berezutskiy is a regular on the Russian national football team with 78 international caps, playing diverse roles in the defense and wide midfield. Head coach Fabio Capello said he chose him because he speaks English and it was important to communicate with the referee.
Plagued with a lingering Achilles’ tendon injury, former skipper Roman Shirokov, who was a key cornerstone in Capello’s midfield, was dropped from the roster on June 6 just before the team headed to its camp in Itu, Sao Paulo. To compensate for the loss, Capello had been shifting his possession strategies to the flanks rather than in the middle.
“Of course Shirokov is a big loss for us,” said Berezutskiy. “However, the Russian team … is strong as a team. This is a collective effort. This is why we shouldn‘t be too fixated on the fact that his absence here will affect our game too much. And we are going to cope with his absence. It’s not such a big problem.”
Capello has touted a meticulous World Cup preparation, cautious not to arrive too early or too late to Brazil or even to Cuiaba, where it arrived a day before the match instead of the customary two. He said the squad was in the best physical shape possible ahead of its match with Korea, which it meets again after beating the squad 2-1 in November.
Korea, for its part, has reportedly spent hours poring over videos and picking apart the Russian players’ strengths and weaknesses to understand how to counterattack.
“The most important thing we did is to prepare properly, making sure that we would get to this match in excellent condition,” said Capello. “That is the most important thing to play against Korea, because we know that Korea is very well prepared both tactically and physically.
“We‘ve already played a game against them and we’re lucky to have already gotten to know them,” he added.
The last two teams to take the World Cup stage, Russia and South Korea make their debut in Group H on Tuesday (Wednesday 7 a.m. local time).
By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent (firstname.lastname@example.org)