Last Updated: 17/06/18 1:08pm
Sweden and South Korea get their World Cup campaigns underway when they meet in Nizhny Novgorod on Monday.
The game could be crucial for both sides’ chances of qualification as they also face holders Germany and Mexico in Group F.
However, neither side comes into the tournament in encouraging form.
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Sweden, who are without the internationally-retired Zlatan Ibrahimovic, failed to score in their last three warm-up matches and have not won a game since beating Italy in the first leg of their play-off qualifier last November.
South Korea have had similar struggles over the last month – losing to Senegal and Bosnia and Herzegovina in friendlies.
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However, while Sweden don’t have Ibrahimovic, South Korea do have their talisman; Heung-Min Son.
The Tottenham forward scored 18 goals in all competitions last season and South Korea will be hoping he can deliver as they prepare for their ninth successive World Cup.
“I feel great when people say good things about me but what’s important is that I have to show it on the pitch,” said Son.
“I know lots of people’s expectations are on me, so I also feel a responsibility.”
South Korea only picked up a point at the last World Cup while Sweden made the last 16 in their last World Cup appearance in 2006.
The opening Group F game takes place on Sunday as Germany face Mexico.
Sweden are unbeaten in their four previous games against South Korea (W2 D2). It’s their first encounter at the World Cup.
Since finishing as runners-up on home soil in 1958, Sweden have progressed past the second round of the World Cup only once, it was in 1994 when they finished third.
Sweden are unbeaten in their last nine group games at the World Cup (W3 D6), with their last defeat in the first round of the competition dating back to 20 June 1990 (1-2 v Costa Rica). Sweden have kept only three clean sheets in their last 24 games at the World Cup.
Sweden have won none of their last seven opening games at the World Cup (D5 L2), their last victory dating back to 1958, on home soil (3-0 v Mexico). Meanwhile, South Korea are unbeaten in their last four openers (W3 D1).
South Korea have won only one of their last nine World Cup games (D3 L5) – it was in their opening match of the 2010 edition against Greece (2-0). That win is also their only clean sheet in their last 12 matches in the competition.
Five of South Korea’s last eight goals at the World Cup have been scored from outside the box. Also, 12 of South Korea’s last 13 goals in the competition have come after half-time.
South Korea have not had great results leading up to the tournament and so I am going for Sweden to edge this one. It will be a tight game and one probably typical of an opening group clash at the World Cup. These two teams cannot afford to lose this match, so it will be cagey and if you are going to go for anything, then you would go for under 2.5 goals.
PAUL PREDICTS: 1-0 (5/1 with Sky Bet)
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