Ordinary, conservative, pedestrian and workman-like—just some of the terms used to describe Russia at the halfway stage of their World Cup opener on Tuesday.
And despite a slight improvement after the break, Fabio Capello’s men did little to shake off such unflattering criticism in a 1-1 draw with South Korea.
Keen to make up ground in Group H after Belgium’s victory over Algeria earlier in the day, success in Cuiaba would have given the Russians momentum ahead of their fixture against Belgium on Sunday.
But too often, striker Alexander Kokorin cut an isolated figure on his own up front before he was joined by goalscorer Aleksandr Kerzhakov from the bench with less than 20 minutes left.
Aside from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s own personal nightmare that handed Hong Myung-bo’s side the lead, much of what their starting XI produced was predictable.
And while the introduction of Alan Dzagoev and Kerzhakov helped Russia regain a sense of pride, Capello will have been concerned by what his players produced early on.
With Denis Glushakov replacing injured captain Roman Shirokov in central midfield, they enjoyed brief success down the right flank early on, with Andrey Eshchenko attacking well from full-back.
But South Korea made the most of a high back line and looked quick on the break. Ki Sung-yueng was comfortable in the playmaker role, while Son Heung-min found space far too easily down the left channel.
Persistent long balls from the Russians failed to test their opponents, while danger man Yuri Zhirkov had an evening to forget and looked sloppy in possession.
A lack of tempo throughout the match likely frustrated Capello the most, and the tight, congested nature of the clash could force the Italian into a rethink.
Dzagoev’s impact from the substitute’s bench won’t have gone unnoticed, and the mobile midfielder added a creative edge to their game on what was his 24th birthday.
And while few can doubt Russia’s organisation at the back and in the middle of the park, a lack of imagination in the final third desperately needs addressing.
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