Both Russia and South Korea have waited the longest to play their first match of all the 32 teams, as they will finally take the field after the second set of matches actually begin.
For Russia, the return to World Cup play after 12 long years of absence will finally be over as Fabio Capello has led his new side in overcoming the massive disappointment of missing South Africa in 2010. An organized campaign that saw them win a tough group over Portugal was buoyed by a stout defense led by a long time partnership.
Sergei Ignashevich and team captain Vasili Berezutski (he became Capello’s skipper after the injury to Roman Shirkov) have shared a decade-long synergy that has been for both club (CSKA Moscow) and country and will be counted on by Capello to continue their qualifying form that saw the Russians only concede five goals. Likely joining them in the back four is Spartak Moscow leftback Dmitri Kombarov and rising right back Georgi Schennikov, Berezutski and Ignashevich’s teammate at CSKA.
With the loss of Shirkov, more expectations will be placed on the shoulders of Dynamo’s Igor Denisov in the two man holding midfield role, with Viktor Fayzulin of Zenit looking set to start with him there. The front four will feature former Chelsea electric leftback Yuri Zhrikov at left midfield, with the impressive 23-year-old talent Oleg Shatov lining up on the right. The front two for Capello should be another impressive 23-year-old in Aleksandr Kokorin, with top striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov up front trying to add to his 25-goal tally for his nation.
While Russia have waited 12 long years to return to the global stage, the Korea Republic are an ever present figure representing the AFC region. The Taegeuk Warriors will look to improve after their tight lost to Uruguay in the Round of 16 in 2010 and will hope legendary defender turned manager Hong Myung-Bo has the answers.
Bo’s valuable days on the field will hopefully solve the current problems his backline is having at the moment, as Augsburg centerback Hong Jeong-Ho will hope to have a strong unity and barrier with fellow 24-year-old Kim Young-Gown. Outside of them are talented fullbacks Yun Suk-Young (another 24 year old at QPR) playing on the left and solid Mainz 05 performer Park Joo-Ho on the right.
A vibrant, energetic midfield will have to be that to protect the much maligned defense, as Bo will see holding midfielders Koo Ja-Cheoi, Park’s teammate with the 7th place Bundesliga club, and the effective Swansea owned passer Ki Song-Yueng wisely split their offensive and centerback protecting responsibilities. If they are able to do that, it could see the outside freedom dynamic left winger Lee Chung-Yong and the diligent Kim Bo-Kyung look to exhibit in order to focus on helping a talented front two.
Although Park Chu-Yong can barely find club playing time, he certainly brings his best for his nation and will look to be a firm force with the always explosive Son-Heung Min, the 21-year-old who has already lit up the German top flight for the past four seasons.