El Tri put in a stunning opening performance in Group F last week, their bravado and desire gaining requisite reward through exciting PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving Lozano’s fine finish.
This stands in contrast to the sorry Taeguk Warriors. They failed to register an attempt on target against Sweden, who inflicted a 1-0 defeat thanks to centre-back Andreas Granqvist’s second-half penalty.
Here are the key battles ahead of Saturday’s clash at Rostov Arena:
KIM YOUNG-GWON V JAVIER HERNANDEZ
Kim will need to put in a shift if he is to contain the ubiquitous ‘Chicharito’.
The striker ran himself into the ground in order to secure the famous 1-0 victory against Germany. Hernandez unsettled the feared Mats Hummels-Jerome Boateng axis with his incessant running and laid on winger Hirving Lozano’s goal, draining the tank so much that he broke down in tears upon the final whistle.
Guangzhou Evergrande’s Kim faced a more orthodox threat from Sweden centre forward Marcus Berg. Worryingly, he responded with just one aerial won and no tackles made.
These are figures that spell doom if repeated against El Tri.
SON HEUNG-MIN V MIGUEL LAYUN
Another key task awaits new Sevilla loanee Layun.
Comfortable on either flank and as either a full-back or winger, his varied skills were seen in full effect against the World Cup holders.
From the right wing, he produced one tackle, interception and clearance to nullify the influence of Paris Saint-Germain playmaker Julian Draxler. He was then a key cog in his side’s rapid counter-attacks, completing four of six long balls and making two key passes.
South Korea star Son was devastated by his ineffectual Sweden display that contained zero attempts. Even if his influence at international level has waned, a player of his quality is unlikely to be so ineffectual once again.
LEE JAE-SUNG V HECTOR HERRERA
A mouthwatering battle in centre midfield could decide this contest.
Lee has grown into one of Asia’s better footballers, winning the 2016 AFC Champions League with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and growing into a key man for his nation. At 25-years old, a growing maturity will be put to the test by Herrera.
The 28-year-old is the finished product. He was nothing short of inspirational for Porto last season, wearing the captain’s armband and inspiring a first Primeira Liga title since 2012/13.
Against Germany, he had the most dribbles (five) and his eight tackles was five more than any team-mate. Another all-round display will have South Korea rattled.
The Tottenham playmaker lashed in from Nicolai Jorgensen’s delightful flick to open the scoring at Samara Arena in the seventh minute.
But the Socceroos refused to be downcast and they profited on 38 minutes after Yussuf Poulsen’s handball made it two matches in a row from which he’s been punished by the review system. Jedinak then did the business from 12 yards.
The result leaves Denmark on four points in Group C and Australia with one point. Their final pool fixtures comes on Tuesday.
Here are our Denmark ratings:
Kasper Schmeichel – 6: The Leicester City’s goalkeeper’s run of international clean sheets has stopped at five matches. Sent wrong way by penalty expert Jedinak and made fine late save, denying Mathew Leckie.
Henrik Dalsgaard – 6: The Brentford right-back was given all sorts of trouble by Australia right winger Robbie Kruse. But made two quickfire blocks on Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Mooy in the second half.
Simon Kjaer – 7: The Sevilla war horse had to be sharp to snub out the waves of Socceroos attacks. The skipper’s tally of three tackles was the joint-second most for Denmark.
Andreas Christensen – 6: Left majority of the donkey’s work to his experienced partner. The Chelsea man registered an impressive 97.2-per-cent passing accuracy from 72 passes.
Jens Stryger Larsen – 6: Kept honest by the endeavor and drive of Hertha Berlin winger Mathew Leckie. Only delivered one cross, so Udinese left-back offered little attacking threat.
Lasse Schone – 5: The Ajax midfielder tried to keep it tidy in middle, but he was over run by the game Australians.
Thomas Delaney – 5: The new Borussia Dortmund signing went close with one first-half effort. Was otherwise swamped in midfield.
Yussuf Poulsen – 5: That’s two matches and two penalties given away via VAR by the RB Leipzig forward. Scored against Peru, but offered nothing this time and was hooked.
Christian Eriksen – 7: What a goal from the Tottenham playmaker. Applied a perfect, powerful connection to Jorgensen’s astute assist to make it 13 goals in his last 15 internationals. True ‘Danish Dynamite’. This was his only notable intervention.
Pione Sisto – 5: A quiet game for the emerging Celta Vigo winger. Frustration boiled over and was booked late on for dissent.
Nicolai Jorgensen – 6: Showed superhuman perception to pick out the onrushing Eriksen for Denmark’s goal. Shortly after, Feyenoord striker screwed a header wide when it looked easier to score.
Martin Braithwaite – 6: Middlesbrough forward showed plenty of desire, but little discernible quality.
Andreas Cornelius – 5: Colossal Atalanta centre forward was starved of service.
Here are the tactical battles:
SAMPAOLI’S SHIFTING SANDS
There was always going to be a reaction to the Iceland stalemate.
Argentine media have reported a change of shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-1-2 formation is imminent.
Angel Di Maria is the biggest-name casualty of this move. The 30-year-old had zero shots and dribbles during an ineffectual 74 minutes.
Veteran defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano’s need for greater legs around him should see River Plate’s Enzo Perez start instead of AC Milan’s Lucas Biglia.
Eyebrows were raised against Nigeria when boss Zlatko Dalic decided to utilise star midfielder Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in front of the defence, a role usually left for Internazionale’s Marcelo Brozovic.
This change didn’t equate to faster ball rotation as Croatia made a stumbling – but ultimately successful – start to World Cup 2018.
Expect Brozovic to come in and keep an eye on Barcelona icon Lionel Messi. Modric will then be tasked with creative work, rather than defensive duties.
DYBALA TO BE DENIED
A clamour is always present when Juventus forward Paulo Dybala is mentioned.
He remains an alluring figure for La Albiceleste, who are yet to see the best of a potential superstar who struck 22 times in 33 Serie A matches last term.
Sampaoli’s likely decision to play two up top should have presented opportunity. But burned by Dybala’s qualifying record of zero goals in eight games and Boca Juniors forward Cristian Pavon’s burgeoning chemistry with Messi, the former mentioned should remain on the bench.