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Russia 2018 kicks off with S. Korea set for 10th appearance in tough group

SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia -- The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday as South Korea await their 10th appearance in football's showpiece event.

The 2018 World Cup started its monthlong journey with the opening ceremony ahead of the tournament opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues in 11 Russian cities until July 15.

This is the 21st edition of the quadrennial football tournament contested by the men's national teams of FIFA members. South Korea reached the World Cup after finishing second in Group A at the final Asian qualifying tournament.

For South Korea, Russia 2018 is their 10th World Cup after making their debut in 1954. With a ticket to Russia, South Korea secured their ninth consecutive World Cup appearance, which is the sixth best record followed by Brazil (21), Germany (17), Italy (14), Argentina (12) and Spain (11).

South Korea national football team players train at Spartak Stadium in Lomonosov, a suburb of Saint Petersburg, Russia, Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korea national football team players train at Spartak Stadium in Lomonosov, a suburb of Saint Petersburg, Russia, Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korea are also one of the 20 teams that will also make back-to-back appearances following the last World Cup in Brazil.

In the previous nine World Cups, South Korea have played 31 matches total, collecting five wins, nine draws and 17 losses. South Korea's best performance came in 2002, when they co-hosted the tournament with Japan and finished fourth.

South Korea also reached the round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa. It was the first time that the national team has reached the knockout stage on foreign soil.

South Korea will try to repeat the success that they had in 2002 and 2010 but are facing an uphill battle as they enter the 2018 World Cup as certain underdogs in their group.

The Taeguk Warriors are in Group F here and will face defending champions Germany, Latin American powerhouses Mexico and European dark horses Sweden, which beat Italy in the playoffs to make the 32-team tournament.

History and numbers point to South Korea as the weakest team in the group. In the latest world rankings, Germany stayed firmly at No. 1, followed by Mexico at No. 15 and Sweden at No. 24. South Korea were ranked No. 57.

South Korea also have inferior head-to-head records against all their Group F opponents. South Korea trail with one win and two losses against Germany, and two draws and two losses against Sweden. Against Mexico, South Korea have four wins, two draws and six losses.

South Korea will open their World Cup Group F campaign with Sweden at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on Monday. They'll then face Mexico at Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don on June 23. Their final Group F contest is against Germany at Kazan Arena in Kazan on June 27.

South Korea's 23-man squad, led by head coach Shin Tae-yong, has set up its World Cup base camp in Saint Petersburg, where they can fly to competition venues in around two hours.

Shin's side has been staying at the New Peterhof Hotel since Tuesday and has been training at Spartak Stadium in Lomonosov, a suburb of St. Petersburg.

South Korea's World Cup squad includes Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min and Swansea City anchorman Ki Sung-yueng, who will also wear the captain's armband during the tournament. Ki is also the most experienced South Korean player on the squad with 102 caps.

The youngest player on the squad is Hellas Verona attacking midfielder Lee Seung-woo, who will have his first World Cup at age 20. Right back Lee Yong is the oldest player at 31.

For the 2018 World Cup, South Korea will compete under the slogan "We, The Reds!" Their slogan printed on a team bus is "Tigers of Asia, Conquer the World." (Yonhap)