PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil ― Korea’s World Cup squad heads into its match against Algeria on Sunday with all eyes on whether it will be able to penetrate Algeria’s labyrinthine defense.
Korea was able to shake off two scoreless pre-World Cup defeats in a promising display in its 1-1 draw with Russia on Tuesday with improved positioning and passing, especially in its back line. But the opening match exposed the team’s lack of endurance and creativity.
|Korea head coach Hong Myung-bo runs a practice session in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, Thursday. (Yonhap)|
The Korean side made just six shots on goal throughout the match, as the cautious front line opted for safety in the first half rather than pushing up the attack.
They were more aggressive in the second half, but began to tire. The energetic second-half substitute Lee Keun-ho finally broke the stalemate in the 68th minute, but not without help from error-prone goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who let Lee’s long-range shot slip through his hands.
Korea showed that it still had work to do defensively, as substitute Aleksandr Kerzhakov scrambled home an equalizer in the 74th minute.
Russian coach Fabio Capello noted that Korea was strong in possession and movement, but seemed to tire near the end. A few players succumbed to cramps in the second half, including captain Koo Ja-cheol and defender Hong Jeong-ho, who has been recovering from a bruised ankle and eventually left the field on a stretcher.
Algeria, in pursuit of its first World Cup win since 1982, showed that it was no pushover against the much-favored Belgium. After a first-half penalty conversion by Sofiane Feghouli, the team held on to its lead with all-out defense for most of the game. But it was ultimately broken down by second-half substitute midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens for a 2-1 defeat.
|Algeria head coach Vahid Halilhodzic (ITAR-TASS-Yonhap)|
Under coach Vahid Halilhodzic, Algeria focuses on preventing openings for attackers. But like Korea, Algeria also struggles with endurance. Facing an airtight defense, Belgium adopted the strategy of wearing out the Algerian team before bringing on strong substitutes to secure the win.
Striker Ji Dong-won said Wednesday he thought attacking down the flanks might prove effective against Algeria.
“I watched the game between Algeria and Belgium. Algeria’s offensive players are fast and each one of them has their own talent. I don’t think Algeria is an easy target,” said Ji, who watched Korea’s opener from the bench Tuesday. “If we play the game (against Algeria) like we did with Russia, then our chances are good.”
Both teams will be seeking to win ahead of tough final group matches on June 26. Korea faces Belgium, which is expected to remain at the top of the group standings, while Algeria again faces a side led by Fabio Capello. The Russia coach led England to a draw against the African team in the 2010 World Cup.
At the bottom of a group that sees Belgium leading with three points and South Korea and Russia each with one, Algeria’s hopes of moving past group stages in its fourth-ever World Cup will end, if it loses.
Koo said the team would focus on getting into shape for Sunday’s game.
“We have to defeat them to get to the Round of 16,” he said Wednesday. “We’ll concentrate on doing whatever it takes to win.”
Korea returned Wednesday to its Foz do Iguacu camp to prepare for the Algeria game and was due to arrive Friday evening in Porto Alegre, where the weather is expected to be a cloudy 20 degrees Celsius on match day.
Belgium and Russia, both returning to the World Cup for the first time since 2002, are preparing for a rematch in Rio de Janeiro after their faceoff that year saw Belgium win 3-2.
By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent
(firstname.lastname@example.org)Grace Cho in Seoul contributed to this article. ―Ed.