After Russia could only muster an unconvincing 1-1 draw with Korea Republic, captain Vasily Berezutskiy admitted that the 12-year wait for a FIFA World Cup™ appearance had took its toll on his side in their Group H opener.
With both teams struggling to create clear-cut chances, goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev personified the nerves that the skipper told FIFA.com had hit the side by gifting their opponents an opener, only for Alexander Kerzhakov – the only remnant from their Korea/Japan 2002 campaign – to come off the bench and snatch a point.
“As you can imagine we were all nervous, both with this being the first World Cup for most of us and Russia's first in a long time,” the towering centre-back said after the game. “However, experience was decisive as Alexander Kerzhakov is the only one who was here 12 years ago and he made the difference. Our team is not the youngest, so we have played in some big matches, but it was important to get this first game out of the way as you cannot compare the World Cup with any other tournament.”
Fabio Capello's side were left to ponder the result, which leaves them two points behind Belgium – who began their tournament with a 2-1 win over Algeria – with their fellow Europeans next in line. “I really feel we should have come out of this game with a win,” Berezutskiy said of their game with Korea Republic at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.
Experience was decisive as Alexander Kerzhakov is the only one who was here 12 years ago and he made the difference.
“We found the conditions tough, the heat and the humidity were a challenge to cope with. Korea also performed really well and really tested us, but ultimately we could only come away with a point. I hope the second game will better, though it will be very tough.”
Sunday's clash with Belgium now takes on an even greater importance after the dropped points, with a win required to wrestle control of the group into their hands ahead of the final match against Algeria on 27 June. Berezutskiy declared that pragmatism was the thing to concentrate on in those meetings should it deliver their goal of escaping the first round.
“The coach will let us know where we need to improve for that game,” he said, having taken charge of his first competitive game with the armband, after the pre-tournament injury to Roman Shirokov. “Our goal is still to get out into the knock-out stages. For us it is much more important that we make it into the last 16 than how we play against Belgium or Algeria.”