After qualifying through a weak group and sacking their coach Uli Stielike in the process, South Korea will aim to put across an upset when they face higher-ranked Sweden in their 2018 FIFA World Cup, Group F opening match at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium here on Monday. Tottenham Hotspur winger Son Heung-min will be the key for the Koreans to trouble the Swede. Son is arguably South Korea's best player in recent years, he has 21 goals in 67 caps.
In their 10th World Cup the South Koreans are certain underdogs in their group, where they are also paired with defending champions Germany and Latin American powerhouses Mexico.
Neither history nor statistics are in South Korea's favour when it comes to their meeting with Sweden. South Korea, coached by Shin Tae-yong, are ranked No.57 in the latest FIFA rankings while Sweden sit at No.24.
South Korea have two draws and two losses from their four previous encounters with Sweden, although their last meeting was in 2005.
Probably the only statistic that South Korea can rely on is their opening match results in recent World Cups. Beginning in 2002, South Korea have not lost any of their first World Cup matches, collecting three wins and one draw.
Neither team had an impressive World Cup tune-up before landing in Russia. South Korea played to a scoreless draw with Bolivia and fell 0-2 to Senegal in their friendly matches in Austria. Sweden had 0-0 draws with Denmark and Peru in their World Cup warm-ups at home.
There has been an off-pitch battle between the two sides ahead of their Group F clash. Sweden claimed they've analysed all of South Korea's closed door training in Austria while South Korea accused Sweden of playing the press to distract them.
Shin has yet to confirm whether he will use a back three or a back four against Sweden, whose main formation is 4-4-2. South Korea mostly used a 4-4-2 setup in their recent friendly matches.
But whether it's a back three or a back four, South Korea kept a two-forward system with Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan playing up front. If using 4-4-2, they're likely to be flanked by two Lees -- Hellas Verona's Lee Seung-woo on the left and Lee Jae-sung on the right.
South Korean captain and Swansea City anchorman Ki Sung-yueng will orchestrate the midfield with his defensive partner Jung Woo-young. Ki will be the man who will distribute the ball and control the team's buildup process.
South Korea are likely deploy the center back duo of Jang Hyun-soo and Kim Young-gwon, who are currently the most experienced defenders on the squad. Veteran right back Lee Yong is set to start on the right side of the defense, with former Borussia Dortmund man Park Joo-ho likely to start ahead of Hong Chul and Kim Min-woo.
Kim Seung-gyu, who also competed at the 2014 World Cup, is likely to be the starting goalkeeper for South Korea, ahead of the less experienced Jo Hyeon-woo, who only has six caps under his belt.
Sweden, coached by Janne Andersson, have been pretty much sticking to their 4-4-2 system, with Al Ain striker Marcus Berg and Toulouse forward Ola Toivonen playing upfront.
Their attacking ace, however, is RB Leipzig star Emil Forsberg. The 26-year-old left winger tends to cut into the centre to create chances. Viktor Claesson, who is with Russian side Krasnodar, is expected to start on the right wing.
Veteran midfielder Sebastian Larsson and Albin Ekdal are likely to be the central midfielders against South Korea.
But it was that stingy and powerful defence that helped Sweden to reach the World Cup ahead of football giants like the Netherlands and Italy in their qualifying campaign. Led by captain Andreas Granqvist, Sweden boast defenders who are physically strong.
Granqvist, who is also with Russian side Krasnodar, is likely to form the center back line with Manchester United's Victor Lindelof. Mikeal Lustig of Celtic is certain to start as a right back, while Ludwig Augustinsson of Werder Bremen or Martin Olsson of Swansea could play as left back.
Robin Olsen, who is with Danish club FC Copenhagen, is likely to wear the gloves for Sweden.
(With IANS inputs)