2017-12-03 18:58
Good news, bad news for Korea in Russian World Cup
By John Duerden

The World Cup just got very real for South Korea on Friday in Moscow. Its opposition in Group F are Germany, Mexico and Sweden: the world champion, the best team in the CONCAFAF region and the team that eliminated four-time winner Italy on the road to Russia.

With just two teams of the four going through to the round of 16, there are few margins for error. It could have been a little more difficult but it could have been a lot easier too. Germany is not only the defending champion but one of the favorites to be lifting that golden trophy next July. It is likely _ though in soccer you never know _ that the other three teams will be fighting for second spot in the group.

There is some good news. Korea faces Germany last. Coach Shin Tae-yong will probably be hoping that the Europeans have already taken six points from their first two games and secured a spot in the next stage. Facing an already-qualified German team missing some of its big players will increase chances of getting a point or, who knows, even three.

Much work is needed before then. The opening game against Sweden on June 18 in the city of Nizhny Novogorod is crucial. Sweden is always well-organized, physically strong and tough to break down as it showed against Italy last month. It remains to be seen whether star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, currently of Manchester United, decides to return to the international stage. After seeing some of Korea’s defending in qualification, it may be for the best that he stays in England. Without him Sweden lacks star power but is incredibly hard-working.

Then comes Mexico in Rostov five days later. The Central Americans are always at the World Cup and usually do okay. A Korean team in form and full of confidence can perform well against El Tri, even one with more European experience than has often been the case in the past. The coach has been under pressure for some big defeats at the hands of Chile (7-1) in the 2016 Copa America and a 4-1 loss to Germany earlier this year.

Little needs to be said about Germany. Korea needs to have some points on the board before the final game.

The other three will not be too concerned with Korea and that may be no bad thing. There is little pressure on the Taeguk Warriors. Few at home will expect much. This may be the best chance of success in Russia.