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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – South Korea and Algeria have to put disappointing opening results behind them when they meet Sunday, each knowing a victory would leave them well-placed to qualify from a World Cup group that remains wide open.
The group standings will become clearer once Russia and Belgium play earlier in the day, but a win for South Korea would place it on the verge of the knockout rounds after it drew its first game against Russia 1-1. Three points for Algeria, which lost 2-1 to Belgium after leading for much of the match, would propel it back into contention, while a loss would all but end its World Cup.
Fullback Park Joo-ho predicted another tight encounter for South Korea, which reached the knockout rounds in 2010 but is best remembered for its history-making journey to the semifinals in 2002 when it co-hosted the World Cup with Japan.
"I don't think either team will have a lot of offensive chances," he told reporters. "If we can score with the chances that we do get, we should have a good shot at winning."
South Korea manager Hong Myung-bo must find a way of getting more bite into his attacking lineup, including Park Chu-young, a onetime national obsession who moved to Arsenal in 2011 but failed to make the first team. Hong started with Park against Russia but removed him in the 56th minute. His replacement Lee Keun-ho scored soon after, thanks to a goalkeeping blunder.
Midfielder Ha Dae-sung has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a damaged ligament in his left foot, according to South Korean media reports.
Ton du Chatinier, South Korea's Dutch-born assistant coach, said Algeria was vulnerable defensively when it was pressing the game.
"When there's a lot of space behind them, we'll have a lot of opportunities to score," the coach said. "It's also a counterattack team. They also wait, wait and wait, and it's important for Korea that we don't make stupid mistakes."
Algeria is seen as an outside chance in the group, but coach Vahid Halilhodzic will have been cheered by the team's performance against a Belgian side tipped by some to go far in the tournament. The side went ahead on a 25 minute penalty and held that lead for 45 more minutes before conceding twice late in the second half.
Algeria didn't score a single goal in the last World Cup in South Africa but has risen in the FIFA rankings since then and impressed in qualifying. The team has been able to draw on experienced players from the country's large overseas migrant community, mostly in France, giving it a depth that some other African nations lack.
Center back Rafik Halliche said the loss to Belgium was "now in the past."
"We still have two games to turn the situation to our advantage," he said. "We certainly shouldn't give up in these circumstances."