International Preview: Russia – South Korea

The Russian national team prior to the Confed Cup game against New Zealand. Photo: Кирилл Венедиктов –

After the mess that was September’s hybrid friendly with Dinamo Moscow, this week sees Russia up their World Cup preparations with two home clashes with fellow guaranteed participants South Korea and Iran. Martin Lowe is joined by Tim Lee from Korean football website Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors to run down Saturday’s clash in Moscow.



By Martin Lowe (@PlasticPitch)

Now into the final year of preparation ahead of the World Cup, Russia looks to be upping the nature of their friendlies this international week. 4 months on from a below-par Confederations Cup appearance, the coming week’s friendlies need to provide more than speculative tinkering, with a clear basis to build on in the coming eight months now essential more than merely desirable.


Tactical Approach

After a makeshift squad for the much-derided friendly with Dinamo Moscow last month, head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has predictably returned to a more regular looking squad ahead of the October friendlies. It does, however, represent a shift in optimism for the fans, differing from the squads of the recent past that were ultimately selected by default to a team that broadly is based on form.

The added quality in the squad, the timing of these friendlies and the quality of the opposition make this a telling turning point in Russia’s preparation. Prior to this, Cherchesov and his apologists could always point to key injuries as to explain their results and the amount of time left to hone what has at times looked liked misguided changeups to personnel and tactics. Now we’re hitting the final furlong – by the end of this fortnight we’ll know all but a handful of sides that’ll join Russia at their home World Cup, this is the time to cement the foundations and start providing an end product.

The calibre of opposition is to be considered also. Russia being seeded as hosts have a good chance of facing an Asian side next summer as some of the lowest ranked sides in the draw. A style of play they need to acclimatise also to after avoiding an Asian nation at the Confederations Cup.

Two wins or at least an unbeaten run over the course of the two matches will breathe a great sigh of relief into the campaign, one that has rarely has experienced such optimism in the air.


Team News

There are still a number of notable exclusions; Spartak duo Denis Glushakov and Dmitri Kombarov are key injury setbacks, as is Dinamo’s Kirill Panchenko, yet Cherchesov has opted against returning Artem Dzyuba straight back to the squad after he missed out on the Confederations Cup.

The list of those entering the fold, however, looks on paper to vastly bolster the flimsy effort that exited at the group stage over the summer. CSKA’s Mario Fernandes (still yet to make his first official appearance for Sbornaya) and Alan Dzagoev return from injury, while there are notable first official national team call-ups for Anton Zabolotny (who scored in last month’s hybrid friendly), Konstantin Rausch (his first since his nationalisation), Anton Miranchuk (who joins brother Aleksei in the squad) and Daler Kuzyayev, all of whom look notable call-ups on early season form.

Then there is the return of Aleksandr Kokorin, likely to be the most impactful change to the squad. The Zenit frontman who has experienced nearly a twelve-month reprieve from the national team duty will no doubt have won around the country after a stunning start to the domestic season since Roberto Mancini took charge of the St. Petersburg club.


Key Players

Aleksandr Kokorin – Back after a nearly a year away, Kokorin, as he has for much of his career, has a lot to prove to the Sbornaya faithful. It couldn’t be better timed, however, with the striker hitting 15 goals in 18 matches for Zenit this season and with a dearth of attacking competition in the starting lineup.

Georgi Dzhikiya – One of the few high points to come out of the Confederations Cup was the form of Spartak defender Georgi Dzhikiya. The retirement of the old CSKA faithful in defence was always going to be a steep mountain to climb for Cherchesov, but the ability in possession particularly of the ball playing right-sided defender has definitely eased the transition process. From making his debut in June, Dzhikiya now looks to be a firm favourite of the coaches, one position (of very few) that looks nailed down for a starting spot.

Aleksandr Golovin – Arguably the finest talent at his age range in Russia, Golovin’s performances have been up for debate of late, failing to really show his full potential at the Confederations Cup, he’s started the season strongly, impressing in particular for a below-par CSKA side that fell to Manchester United last week. His potential will be tested to another degree this week, against credible opposition, the question is whether Cherchesov trusts him to become the fulcrum of the side’s build-up play?


Predicted Lineup

(5-3-2) Akinfeev – Fernandes, Dzhikiya, Vasin, Kudryashov, Zhirkov – Dzagoev, Golovin, Erokhin – Kokorin, Smolov.


South Korea

By Tim Lee (@KorFan12)

Though they’ve qualified for their ninth consecutive World Cup, a streak few countries in the world can boast to surpass, the Korean national team find itself in a continual state of some disarray. On the pitch, uninspiring performances against Iran and Uzbekistan saw two 0-0 draws be enough to fall backwards into the World Cup; off the pitch, Shin Taeyong’s nascent managership was thrown into question by the Korean public after reports emerged that legendary 2002 boss Guus Hiddink had been eyeing a swansong, only to be shut down by the Korean Football Association.


Tactical Approach

In a strange turn of events, Shin Taeyong opted to not call up any K League players for these two friendlies (against Russia and then against Morocco), explaining that having asked the K League to sacrifice one round of its season to give him more time with domestic players prior to the final World Cup qualifiers, this was his time to return the favor.

Nonetheless, Shin promised in TV interviews following the World Cup qualifiers that he would bring back “Shin Taeyong football” which is synonymous with free flowing, fluid attacking play, after a cautious counter-attacking approach against Iran that yielded no shots on target and a careful 3-4-3 away in Tashkent. Impatient fans desperate for goals are firmly in Shin’s mind, with the gaffer saying that he “wants to see the end product” and will “lead a tactical change so the team can score goals”.

And a tactical change we will see, as Shin’s final left fullback standing, Yun Sukyoung, then exited due to injury, and was replaced by defensive midfielder Park Jongwoo. This strange conundrum leaves Shin with no choice but to deploy a 3-4-3 formation. A more offensive minded Shin could see winger Lee Chungyong be converted into a left fullback, but a more cautious approach could see Jang Hyunsoo (Tokyo) or Kim Younggwon (Guangzhou) be shoehorned into the position.

Shin’s exclusion of Korea-based players mean we will likely see a very China and Japan-based defensive line. Song Juhun (Niigata) will be tapped for his first KNT cap, as will Tianjin-based Kwon Kyungwon. Meanwhile, in the central CB position Olympics captain Jang Hyunsoo and KNT captain Ki Sungyueng has not played a single game yet for Swansea this season due to injury, and despite coming to training as a cheerleader for the qualifiers, no one really knows if he’s fit to play.

With the exception of Son Heung Min, the options are equally uninspiring going forwards. Ji Dongwon is a favorite to lead the line, though he hasn’t got any minutes for Augsburg this season. Kwon Changhoon and Koo Jacheol could work well as a midfield duo, but only if shielded by a more defensive midfielder.

Simply put, Shin is promising goals, but you wonder where they will come from. Without there being one key player in form, it’s anyone’s guess as to how Shin will lineup this very average Korean side.


Key Players

Kim Younggwon – Is it a coincidence that in every game he played in qualifying (outside of his numerous injury woes) Korea kept a clean sheet? I think not. Whether or not you believe the training ground rumours that Kim is more likely to start as a wide defender as opposed to playing in his usual central position, the Guangzhou man has put in some solid performances since the 2014 World Cup for the KNT and could be key to stopping Kokorin.

Kwon Changhoon ­– It’s Kwon’s time to shine, surely. With Lee Jaesung out of the lineup, Nam Taehee not in his season, Ki Sungyueng expected to drop deeper, somebody’s got to have that X factor in midfield. While Lee brings incisiveness, Nam, mobility, Ki, passing consistency, Kwon’s got the stage all to himself to show his fluidity and attacking nous. A good performance in these friendlies could see him on a path to Russia 2018.

Kim Seunggyu/Kim Jinhyeon – Whoever the goalkeeper is, this game will matter. Both have been rather nervy of late for the national team, and that’s not reassuring. Either one of these J.League keepers could, by making all the saves they have to make, a couple they normally shouldn’t, take the #1 job with both hands. It’s really up for the taking in a national team that more or less has gone tabula rasa in many positions.


Predicted Lineup

(3-5-2) – Kim Seunggyu – Kim Younggwon, Ki Sungyueng, Kim Kihee – Lee Chungyong, Kwon Changhoon, Jung Wooyoung, Koo Jacheol, Oh Jaesuk – Son Heungmin, Ji Dongwon


Match Prediction

With much of the squad hitting solid form of late, this match should be seen as a perfect opportunity to see what this Sbornaya side is made of. The return of Kokorin to the side is critical, and with Dzyuba being overlooked for this window, the Zenit man’s relationship with striking partner Fedor Smolov will be tested on full display. Defensively Russia is still finding their feet, so goals at both ends can surely be expected, but the home side looks to have the edge.

Russia 2-1 South Korea

Author: Martin Lowe

Russian and Asian football follower and blogger.


  1. Good analysis of korean football

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