By Peter Rutherford
June 17 (Reuters) - South Korea's slapstick defending has been a major cause for concern in the leadup to the World Cup, so it was no surprise when slack play at the back cost them a goal against Russia in their Group H opener on Tuesday.
What did come as a surprise was that Russia, who under Fabio Capello have become airtight at the back, also conceded from a defensive blunder, goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev somehow letting the ball slip from his grasp and over his shoulder into the net.
Both sides earned a point from the 1-1 draw in Cuiaba, leaving them joint second in the group after Belgium came from behind to beat Algeria earlier in the day.
On Tuesday's performance, both will have to raise their game significantly if they are to make it to the second round.
After a first half devoid of goalmouth action and excitement, the Koreans took the early initiative in the second 45 minutes, pushing forward eagerly and looking to deliver a body blow with the first goal.
It came through substitute Lee Keun-ho, whose rasping shot from outside the box spun off Akinfeev's palms and looped into the net to give Korea a 1-0 lead in the 68th minute.
But like an aggressive boxer with a glass chin, the Koreans looked as if they could be knocked out each time the Russians counter-attacked, their panic-stricken full backs just grateful to thump the ball anywhere out of the danger zone.
And that lack of composure cost Korea six minutes later.
After goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong spilled Alan Dzagoev's shot in the six-yard box, the Korean defence smacked the ball off Andrey Eschenko and it landed at the feet of Alexander Kerzhakov, who swivelled and stabbed it home.
South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo, the elegant sweeper who led Korea to the 2002 semi-finals on home soil, has a job on his hands to tighten up a defence that shipped 11 goals in five World Cup warm-ups.
His central pairing of Hong Jeong-ho and Kim Young-gwon looked solid enough but full backs Lee Yong and Yoon Suk-young were frequently caught out of position and failed to mark tightly enough.
Russia coach Capello's main task will be to rebuild veteran goalkeeper Akinfeev's confidence before they face Belgium on June 22. The Italian was quick to back his keeper at the post-match news conference.
"I am very happy with the work of Akinfeev because he is a great goalkeeper," said Capello.
"People can make mistakes, I think it is logical it can happen for a goalkeeper to make a mistake. Today it is fine because we were able to make it up in the end. I accept the mistake made by the great goalkeeper Akinfeev." (Editing by Toby Davis)