NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia -- The importance of winning the first match at the World Cup is rarely lost on players or coaches alike. And South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong went all-in to try to beat Sweden to start this year's tournament in Russia.
But South Korea ranked 57th, failed miserably, losing 1-0 to world No. 24 without even putting a shot on target at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. Shin used a 4-3-3 formation, a departure from the 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 settings from tuneup matches immediately preceding the tournament, and also put some surprise faces into the starting 11.
None of that worked. And they now face a daunting task of trying to make it out of the group stage against two tough foes. South Korea have to beat the world No. 1, and a team that just defeated that world No. 1.
The type of a sluggish offensive performance against Sweden has become the norm for Shin's side, and that's a disconcerting trend for a team that will next face world No. 15 Mexico on Saturday, followed by the top-ranked defending champs Germany on June 27.
Mexico stunned Germany 1-0 on Sunday, a match that could have been even more lopsided if Mexico had converted a few more of their wide-open opportunities. With an impressive display of speed and skills, Mexico quickly emerged as the team to beat in Group F, while the reeling Germany will likely have to settle for second seed at best.
Facing Germany, Mexico withstood some pressure and mounted strong counterattacks to generate their chances. But against South Korea -- a far inferior side to Germany -- Mexico are unlikely to deploy the same strategy. They will probably be in the attacking mode from the get-go, and South Korea, battered and bruised after a chippy match against the physical Swedish side, must contend with speed and guile of the likes of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Hirving Lozano.
And having dropped the opener, Germany will be determined to beat both Sweden and South Korea. That's essentially the worst case scenario for South Korea, who had hoped Germany would win the first two matches handily and lock down the top seed in the group and then go a bit easy on South Korea in the finale.
Forward Timo Werner will be better than he was against Mexico. Veteran midfielders Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil will also try to put their poor showing against Mexico behind them -- if they won't already have done so after playing Sweden on Saturday.
After just one match, this clearly isn't yet time for number crunching. But unless they can turn things around in a hurry, South Korea will be eliminated from the tournament before they can even begin any calculation on what needs to be done to reach the knockout phase.
As he'd done all along, Shin kept a brave face on.
"The ball is round. Mexico played well against Germany yesterday, but we'll prepare hard and try to put up a good fight," he said. "Against Germany, Mexico showed great speed and skills, and they had excellent counterattacks. I think they will be tough to play, but I also think they'll play a different style than they did against Germany." (Yonhap)