South Korea has the talent to challenge anyone at this World Cup, but recent history doesn't suggest that they have the capacity to do it. They were poor in both of their warm-up friendlies, they made a coaching change because of their poor performance in qualifying and they lost a March friendly against Tuesday's opponent, Russia (6 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Coach Hong Myung-Bo has some history of exceeding expectations, though, guiding South Korea to the quarterfinals of the Under-20 World Cup and the Under-23 team to a bronze medal at the Olympics. The World Cup level is obviously a completely different animal than youth level, however, and it's possible that he just hasn't had enough time to get this team playing the way he wants.
Meanwhile, Russia are looking like a well-oiled machine under Fabio Capello and it would be surprising if they didn't challenge Belgium for the top spot in the group. South Korea should be a great litmus test -- if they win, they're favorites to get out of the group, but Group H should be wide open if they don't.
Roman Shirokov was a big loss for Russia before the start of the tournament, but he has good deputies behind him. Capello can turn to any of Alan Dzagoev, Oleg Shatov or Denis Glushakov, depending on the situation. Dzagoev is believed to be the most likely to start.
South Korea have no injury problems, just selection dilemmas. Hong's front six is pretty easy to predict, but the same can't be said for his defense. They've been awful recently, so a major shake-up could be on the cards.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Russia (4-3-3): Igor Akinfeev; Dmitri Kombarov, Sergei Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutski, Andrey Eshchenko; Igor Denisov, Viktor Fayzulin, Alan Dzagoev; Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksandr Kokorin, Aleksandr Samedov
South Korea (4-2-3-1): Jung Sung-Ryong; Park Joo-Ho, Hong Jeong-Ho, Kim Young-Gwon, Lee Yong; Ki Sung-Yueng, Park Jong-Woo; Son Heung-Min, Koo Ja-Cheol, Lee Chung-Yong; Park Chu-Young
Russia vs. South Korea
Son Heung-Min vs. Igor Denisov - Yes, Son is South Korea's left winger, but he'll have more of the goal-scoring burden on him than Park will. He's going to cut inside quite a bit and look to shoot with his right. On those occasions, it'll be up to Denisov, Russia's defensive midfielder, to close him down and make sure he can't get good shots off.
South Korea's CBs vs. Aleksandr Kokorin - Kokorin could start at center forward or on the wing, but he'll end up terrorizing the center of South Korea's defense either way. They've been pretty bad recently, and they'll have their hands full with Kokorin, who has every kind of skill you'd ever want in a forward.
It's tough to predict South Korea will do anything after their 4-0 mauling at the hands of Ghana just over a week ago. 2-0 Russia.