By Peter Rutherford
June 17 (Reuters) - South Korea let victory slip from their grasp after giving up a cheap equaliser against Russia in their Group H opener on Tuesday but after a horror run of World Cup warm-ups coach Hong Myung-bo was satisfied with a point.
Hong, who captained the Koreans on their glorious run to 2002 World Cup semi-finals on home soil, said the key was not to start the tournament off with a loss and praised his players' performance in the 1-1 draw in Cuiaba.
"In a tournament like this, the first match is always the most difficult and there is a lot of pressure," Hong told reporters. "I think my players really did their utmost today. Tactically and physically, each and every moment, they played intelligently."
The South Koreans came into the tournament having lost four of their last five games, including a 4-0 rout at the hands of Ghana last week. Sloppy defending has been a feature of their woeful World Cup buiildup and it cost them again on Tuesday.
Substitute Lee Keun-ho had given Korea a 1-0 lead in the 68th minute when Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev failed to hold his rasping shot and it looped off his palms and into the net.
But six minutes later South Korea keeper Jung Sung-ryong spilled Alan Dzagoev's shot in the six-yard box, and when the defence failed to clear substitute Alexander Kerzhakov pounced to stab the ball home from close range.
Hong was optimistic the Koreans would get better as the tournament went on and was confident they would improve against group favourites Belgium and unfancied Algeria.
"Overall if we look at our players, I don't think they did that badly," he added. "I think in the next match they will do a lot better." (Editing by Ken Ferris)