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S. Korea start World Cup prep with friendly vs. Russia

All Headlines 10:10 October 03, 2017

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will start their preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup later this week when they take on the hosts of the top football tournament.

South Korea will face Russia at VEB Arena in Moscow on Saturday for a friendly. The match will start at 5 p.m. (local time) and 11 p.m. (Seoul time).

This is the first friendly since South Korea qualified for the 2018 World Cup last month. After playing against Russia, South Korea will meet Morocco in Biel, Switzerland, next Tuesday.

The men's national football team confirmed a ninth consecutive World Cup appearance under Shin Tae-yong, who took over the helm in July after the Korea Football Association (KFA) sacked Uli Stielike.

South Korea national football team players and coaching staff pose for a group photo at Incheon International Airport before departing for Moscow on Oct. 2, 2017. (Yonhap)

Shin, however, has yet to collect a victory with the Taeguk Warriors as head coach. South Korea posted scoreless draws in their last two World Cup qualifying matches against Iran and Uzbekistan.

South Korea, currently 51st in the latest FIFA rankings, have played against No. 64 Russia twice before. South Korea suffered a 2-1 loss to Russia in their first friendly match in Dubai in 2013. Their last meeting was at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where they played to a 1-1 draw in the group stage.

Shin has called up 23 players for upcoming friendlies, but none of them are from domestic K League clubs. This is the first time that a South Korean squad is made up entirely of overseas-based players.

Shin said he would only select players from outside South Korea because the domestic K League has matches this weekend. And since local clubs had previously agreed to release their players earlier than scheduled for South Korea's final two World Cup qualifiers, Shin chose to accommodate the clubs' needs this time.

Shin's squad includes regular members like Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City and Koo Ja-cheol of FC Augsburg, but some of them are making their national returns after a one-year absence.

Among the 23 players, nine of them have faced the Russians before. In particular, five players -- Son, Ki, Lee Chung-yong, Kim Young-gwon, and Kim Bo-kyung -- featured in both of South Korea's matches against Russia, though none of them scored.

In this file photo taken on June 17, 2014, South Korea's Son Heung-min (R) dribbles past Russian defenders during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group H match between South Korea and Russia at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil. (Yonhap)

Shin previously lamented that he has limited options at certain positions this time because he only selected overseas-based players.

For the upcoming friendlies, Shin picked only two players -- Ji Dong-won of FC Augsburg and Hwang Ui-jo of Gamba Osaka -- as forwards. Hwang Hee-chan of FC Red Bull Salzburg was not available due to a thigh injury, while Suk Hyun-jun of Troyes didn't earn a selection since Shin thought he first needs to play with his new club.

What gives more concern to Shin is the left back position. His team on Monday traveled to Moscow without a natural left back after Yun Suk-young of Kashiwa Reysol was dropped from the squad due to a hamstring injury. The former Queens Park Rangers man was replaced by Emirates Club midfielder Park Jong-woo.

To fill Yun's void, Shin may deploy Oh Jae-suk or Rim Chang-woo, though both players' main position is right back. Left-footed center back Kim Young-gwon can also play on the left side, but there is a question mark over his attacking ability.

Shin has stressed that he will solve these problems by using "unconventional" formations and tactics. But the 46-year-old, who previously managed South Korea's under-23 and under-20 teams, however, said he will not only conduct tests but will also try to get good results and have good performances in the friendlies.

In this file photo taken June 17, 2014, Russia national team players celebrate after scoring a goal against South Korea at the 2014 FIFA World Cup at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, Russia have called up 27 players for their friendly matches with South Korea and Iran. After facing South Korea, Russia are scheduled to host Iran in Kazan, Russia, next Tuesday.

On Stanislav Cherchesov's roster, five players -- Alexander Kokorin, Igor Akinfeev, Yury Zhirkov, Alexander Samedov, and Alan Dzagoev -- faced the South Koreans at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

South Korea will have to be especially aware of Kokorin, who has returned to the national team after almost a one-year absence. The 26-year-old, who is with Zenit St. Petersburg, is currently the leading scorer in the Russian Premier League with eight goals in 12 matches.

Krasnodar striker Fedor Smolov, who topped the scoring in the Russian league in the last two seasons, is also on the squad following his recovery from a knee injury. The 27-year-old scored the winner for Russia in their 2013 friendly against South Korea.

South Korea will also have to overcome veteran goalkeeper Akinfeev, who has more than 100 caps for his country.

Russia have so far posted three wins, two draws and three losses in 2017. But the friendly against South Korea is the first time this year that the Russians will face a team from the Asian Football Confederation.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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