Brazil were the pre-tournament favourites and looked to be starting to justify that tag in their first two games. A second-half brace by Richarlison saw off Serbia on Matchday 1, and an 83rd-minute Casemiro strike earned the Seleção the three points against Switzerland. It was the first time since Brazil’s last World Cup win in 2002, that they had started the tournament with back-to-back victories. In doing so, Brazil stretched their unbeaten run in World Cup group games to 17 and became the first team in 24 years to negotiate the first two group matches without conceding a shot on target. With a place in the Round of 16 already assured, coach Tite made nine changes for the final group game against Cameroon. Like France, who also made nine changes following their opening wins, Brazil lost by a single goal in their third outing, against Cameroon. Taking their three games as a whole, Brazil had an average of 59.3% possession and registered 21 shots on target, while allowing only three.
South Korea began their tournament with two highly contrasting games. Their opener against Uruguay finished goalless, with only one shot on target. Their second outing, against Ghana, was a far more open game with South Korea coming back from two goals down, only to lose to a 68th-minute goal. The Taegeuk Warriors needed a win against Portugal in their last game and a narrow Uruguayan victory in order to progress. The former came through a 91st-minute winner from Hwang Hee-chan, while the latter came courtesy of a 2-0 win for Uruguay over Ghana. During the group stages, South Korea had 48.3% possession, on average, and recorded 13 shots on target, while allowing 10.
For all their strength in depth, Brazil’s plans have been disrupted by seemingly tournament-ending injuries to Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles, as well as the ongoing problem for Neymar, who they hope will still be able to play a part, should they progress. Brazil began the tournament ranked as the number one team in the world, 27 places ahead of their opponents. Both teams usually play a 4-2-3-1 formation, but both switched to a 4-3-3 system for one game in the group stage. Brazil has won seven and drawn one of their nine meetings with South Korea, with their last encounter ending in a 5-1 win for the Seleção, in June. A win for South Korea against the five-time champions would top the lot in a tournament that has provided its fair share of surprises.