Russia - South Korea Preview: Europeans end 12-year World Cup exile

Fabio Capello's men are looking to hit the ground running at their first World Cup since 2002, while Hong Myung-Bo is hoping a blend of youth and experience can thrive
By Peter Staunton in Cuiaba

Twelve years after appearing at their last World Cup, the Russians are back. Their recent World Cup history, however, doesn't read positively. They went out of the first round in 1994 and did not appear again until 2002. They won a grand total of two matches across those eight years.

Fabio Capello is the man tasked with whipping an under-performing nation into shape before hosting the tournament in four years and the veteran coach led them through this qualification campaign successively, relegating Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal to the play-offs.

The Russians come into the World Cup unbeaten in their last 10 matches but there are nonetheless doubts about their quality. Their Euro 2012 campaign fizzled out after a good start with Russian Premier League mainstays disappointing in the harsh continental glare.

The squad is still drawn in its entirety from the national league but there are key components missing. Captain Roman Shirokov has been ruled out through injury so eyes again will be drawn to Alan Dzagoev, who will likely shoulder the creative burden.

Capello's football will not thrill many admirers but reaching the World Cup for the first time since 2002 with his strict methods has won him plenty of respect within the borders.

Despite being a top seed South Korea did not enjoy a straightforward qualification campaign, having been defeated twice by Iran and also slipping up against Uzbekistan and Lebanon.

The second defeat to Iran last summer was enough to prompt a change in the coaching position with Choi Kang-Hee departing and national team icon Hong Myung-Bo installed in his place.

Korea ultimately squeaked through in second place behind the Iranians, ahead of Uzbekistan on goal difference.

This Korea side does not equal the quality of their 2002 predecessors but Hong has promoted plenty of the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winners to the senior side.

The core of his team play at a high level with the likes of Hong Jeung-Ho, Ki Sung-Yueng, Koo Ja-Cheol and Son Heung-Min starring for clubs in the Premier League and the Bundesliga.

There remain problems at both ends, however, with the Taeguk Warriors short on goals in recent months and conceding at an alarming rate. Last week they shipped four in their final warm-up game against Ghana and that result consigned the Koreans to a run of four losses and only two wins in six matches in 2014.