CUIABA, Brazil (AP) — Most players at the World Cup need no introduction to a football audience.
When South Korea plays Russia on Tuesday, however, some introductions may be in order — between the teams themselves.
“I don’t know the (Russian) names themselves,” South Korea captain Koo Ja-cheol said. “But I know their numbers.”
Koo was reacting to comments by Russia coach Fabio Capello, who said of the South Koreans earlier Monday that “it’s important not to know their names but the characteristics of the players.”
South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo was far from insulted by Capello, a man he described as a “world-famous coach I respect very much.”
In fact, he understood completely.
“It’s not easy for names of Korean players to be memorized,” Hong said. “They are difficult names.”
If anyone is playing like strangers at the moment, it’s South Korea’s defenders.
In the warm-up games for the World Cup, the South Koreans lost 1-0 at home to Tunisia — and the margin of defeat could have been much worse — before being thrashed 4-0 by Ghana in Miami last week.
Hong is one of the country’s greatest ever defenders, captaining the 2002 side to the semifinals of the World Cup on home soil, so he’s worried about what he is seeing.
“It seems like there are a lot of goals scored in the first half, since our players are young,” he said. “We are mainly focusing on concentration.”
Defending from set pieces has long been a weakness for South Korea and it is an area Russia will look to exploit.
“We had a lot of video meetings, looked at how they play, and of course they are a lot taller than we are. So it’s something we are taking into consideration,” said Koo, South Korea’s youngest captain at age 25.
“I think the (build-up) has not been easy. We have experienced difficulties. But we are confident we know what to do in the World Cup.”
The teams met in a friendly in November in Dubai, with the Russians winning 2-1.
Algeria and Belgium are the other teams in Group H.
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