Substitute Alexandr Kerzhakov came off the bench to salvage a 1-1 draw for Russia against South Korea Tuesday in their opening game in Group H.
South Korea went ahead after 68 minutes when Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev inexplicably let a Lee Keunho shot slip through his fingers just as Russia looked like taking control of the encounter in Culaba.
However, the lead lasted just six minutes as Kerzhakov tapped home shortly after coming on to secure a vital point for Fabio Capello’s side.
“After the goal they scored it is not easy to react,” Capello told BBC Sport.
“The players’ reaction was really good. They had two chances to score the second but that is football. Aleksandr Kerzhakov is a fantastic player, he always has chances to score goals.” South Korea dominated possession for long periods but faded as the game progressed and will probably be the more satisfied of the sides with a point.
Son Heungmin had the first opportunity of the game in the 10th minute, running at the Russian defence but blasted over from inside the area.
Russia’s first shot on target came just after the half—hour mark when Korean goalkeeper Jung Sungryong parried away Sergey Ignashevich’s free kick.
Koo Jacheol’s deflected shot went just wide off Ignashevich shortly afterwards but Korea’s best opportunity of the half fell to Son eight minutes before the break only for the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder to once again send his effort high over the bar.
The second half was a much more open affair with Victor Fayzulin testing Jung with a longe—range shot while Vasily Berezutskiy headed into the side netting from the resultant corner.
Ki Sungyueng forced a save from Akinfeev as the game ebbed and flowed but the Russian goalkeeper could count his blessings in the 57th minute when he spilled a free kick from Kim Younggwon.
Russia increased the pressure as the half progressed as Dmitry Kombarov tried his luck from distance and he also sent in a teasing cross that Jung did well to clear.
Russia were now looking the much likelier to score but the momentum swung back in South Korea’s favour when Akinfeev let Kim’s free kick slip through his fingers to hand Hong Myungbo’s side an unexpected lead.
Capello brought on Igor Denisov and Kerzhakov in an effort to find an equalizer and his gamble paid almost immediate dividends.
Alan Dzagoev’s shot was parried into the path of Kim, whose clearance hit Andrey Yeshchenko and fell into the path of Kerzhakov to tap home and join Vladimir Beschastnykh as a top goalscorer for Russia with 26 goals.
Capello’s side pushed forward in search of a late winner but South Korea held on for a deserved point.
Russia next face Belgium on Sunday while South Korea take on Algeria.