Russia coach Fabio Capello was apparently so pleased that his team was able to rescue a point against South Korea in its Group H opener that he described the draw as “the greatest birthday gift I could receive.” One wonders, then, what Capello, who turned 68 on Wednesday, would have said had his team secured all three points?
By most accounts, Russia was expected to coast through Group H alongside Belgium, but both Algeria and South Korea have proven to be tougher nuts to crack than anticipated. Belgium on Tuesday needed to come-from-behind to beat Algeria, 2-1, while Russia also came-from-behind to rescue its point after goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev committed what will certainly be remembered as one of the worst goalkeeping blunders of the World Cup: letting Korea’s Lee Keun-ho’s tame shot slip through his hands after 68 minutes.
"I thanked the team for their reaction and told them that was the greatest birthday gift I could receive," Capello told reporters in his post-game press conference. "It means the team is great and they can do it." The former England coach reflected that his team was nervous in the first half, making its first World Cup appearance since 2002. "In the first part of the game we were quite narrow, we were concerned, we were worried, we had problems getting the ball around," he said.
Korea’s goal changed the game, however, as it shocked Russia into life. Six minutes after conceding, substitute Alexander Kerzhakov came to the rescue, scoring three minutes after coming off the bench. "We could have won the game," Capello said. "(But) there was a wonderful reaction by our team after the goal we suffered. We developed a crescendo, we grew." As for Akinfeev’s mistake, Capello said, "I am very happy with the work of Akinfeev because he is a great goalkeeper. People can make mistakes."