Alexander Kerzhakov rescued Russia in its first World Cup finals match since 2002, scoring three minutes after coming on as substitute to salvage a 1-1 draw against South Korea on Tuesday.
The 31-year-old Zenit St Petersburg striker—who is the sole survivor from the squad that appeared at the 2002 World Cup finals—was brought on after rival’s substitute Lee Keun-Ho put South Korea ahead with a 30 metre shot that Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev disastrously parried over his head into the net.
Russia, which hosts the 2018 finals, was looking to make an impact in its landmark return. It owed its saved honour to Kerzhakov who scored his 26th international goal.
The Koreans began brightly enough, with Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-Min testing Akinfeev early, his right-footed shot going high.
Seconds later the midfielder was booked unfairly by Argentine referee Nestor Pitana.The largely local crowd began to vent their frustration at what they perceived to be the lack of spectacle served up for their evening entertainment.
The Koreans had the upper hand as the tepid first half drew to a close, their midfield putting together some neat moves, with Han Kook-Young and Sunderland’s Ki Sung-Yeung proving a handful.
If Russia was to give coach Capello something to celebrate on his 68th birthday at midnight, it would have to up its game. And it came out fighting with two quick chances from Victor Fayzulin and skipper Vasily Berezutski.
Down at the other end, Akinfeev did well to deny Koo’s potent drive.
In a bid to shake things up Korean coach Hong Myung-Bo, captain of the side that finished fourth at the 2002 World Cup, introduced prolific striker Lee for Park, and it proved a useful switch.
On 68 minutes, Lee broke the deadlock in style, charging towards the Russian box, rounding a defender to shoot right-footed.
Akinfeev looked devastated after at first seeming to halt the ball but then watching in horror as it went over his head.
Russia pulled back level when Kerzhakov, after coming on for Yury Zhirkov, pounced on the ball after a goalmouth scramble to shoot home from close range.