Russia recovered from a damaging error by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to salvage a 1-1 draw against South Korea on Tuesday night in both teams' World Cup Group H opener at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil.
Korea went ahead in the 68th minute via Lee Keun-Ho, whose long-distance shot squirmed past Akinfeev despite the Russian goalkeeper putting both hands on the ball. Fabio Capello's side trailed only briefly, though, as Alexander Kerzhakov leveled in the 74th minute after slotting in his own rebound.
The result leaves both teams level in second place in Group H on one point each following Belgium's 2-1 victory over Algeria earlier in the day. Russia will face Belgium on Sunday in a match that could determine the group winner, while Korea play Algeria.
Though all four teams would be content to advance to the knockout stage, they will also hope to avoid finishing second in Group H, which would likely mean a match against Germany in the round of 16.
Neither team scored in the first half, but both created chances. Son Heung-Min shot over the bar for Korea in the 11th minute, and 20 minutes later, Russia's Sergey Ignashevich hit a thundering free-kick on target from long distance that was saved.
Three minutes later Koo Ja-Cheol saw his deflected shot bounce inches wide of Russia's goal. Son then skied a shot well over the bar five minutes later as the match remained scoreless heading into half-time.
Russia had the first good chance after the break, with Vasily Berezutskiy heading into the side netting in the 46th minute. But then a first sign of goalkeeping trouble surfaced five minutes later as Akinfeev spilled Ki Sung-Yueng's long-distance shot before smothering the rebound.
The Russian goalkeeper had another scare in the 57th minute, failing to hold a dipping free-kick taken by Kim Young-Gwon. Once again, though, Akinfeev scampered to collect the rebound before Korea could pounce. Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong then had a nervous moment in the 62nd minute, pushing away Kombarov shot from long distance.
After so many close calls, an error was almost bound to happen. And Akinfeev was the culprit, allowing Lee's tame, long-distance drive past him in the 68th minute despite getting both hands to the ball.
The heartbreak was obvious on Akinfeev's face, but his suffering was short-lived. Six minutes later, Russia were level.
Moments after entering as a substitute, Kerzhakov fired in at the second attempt in the 74th minute to make it 1-1.
Spurred forward by another substitute, Alan Dzagoev, Russia set out in search of a winner. But despite their new-found initiative, Russia had to settle for a draw. And considering the severity of Akinfeev's error, it has to be considered a point gained rather than two lost.
|Russia Player Ratings|
|Alan Dzagoev (for Shatov, 59')||N/A||7|
|Alexander Kerzhakov (for Zhirkov, 71')||N/A||7|
|Igor Denisov (for Glushakov, 72')||N/A||6|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
|South Korea Player Ratings|
|Lee Keun-Ho (for Park, 56')||N/A||7|
|Hwang Seok-Ho (for Hong, 72')||N/A||6|
|Kim Bo-Kyung (for Son, 84')||N/A||6|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Russias coach Fabio Capello, who was marking his 67th birthday, praised his side's reaction to going a goal behind on goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's error. Speaking to the BBC (h/t FIFA.com), he said:
It was a good game, they ran a lot in the first half and then felt tired. You saw the goal they scored, it was not easy to react.
But the players were really good and most important for me was the reaction. We also twice had a chance to score a second goal. I know Kerzhakov did well, he's a fantastic player. He always offers us a way to score goals.
South Korea coach Hong Myung-Bo said his team was "happy" with the result, telling FIFA.com:
We didn’t get the win, but we can be happy with the draw. It was our first match of the competition and opening matches are always difficult. Even so, I’m happy with what I saw. We studied Russia and their coach’s tactics carefully and we prepared very well for the game. My players have given their very best, and showed how good they are in both a tactical and physical sense. The Russians, meanwhile, are fast players and there were times when they put us under pressure. I said to my players that they could hit long balls in response, though it wasn’t an order.