The Zenit St Petersburg striker levelled with his first touch when he pounced on Jung Sung-Ryong's parry and crashed home a close-range finish following a scramble 16 minutes from time.
It came shortly after South Korea had opened the scoring when another substitute Lee Keun Ho saw a speculative shot fumbled into his own net by Russian stopper Igor Akinfeev.
It was a disaster for the CSKA Moscow captain but proved to be a mistake that kicked a dour game into life.
The Taegeuk Warriors had the better of the first-half chances with Bayer Leverkusen star Heung-Min Son twice firing over when well place while Ja-Cheol Koo was unlucky to see his 30-yard drive deflect inches past the post.
Russia showed very little cutting edge but responded after Akinfeev's error and Kerzhakov's introduction saw him equal the all-time record of 26-goals for his country.
Fabio Capello's side ended the game strongly but couldn't find the elusive finish to complete the comeback.
PRE-MATCH: Russia opt for World cup 2018 poster boy Aleksandr Kokorin to lead the line ahead of the experienced Zenit forward Kerzhakov.
11' - SOUTH KOREA CHANCE! A clearance from the left falls kindly for Heung-Min Son who sprints at the defence, which inexplicably parts for him, but thunders his shot well wide of the near post.
31' - RUSSIA CHANCE! Free kick to Russia 45 yards out. Chance to tease one into the danger area... No, Sergei Ignashevich lets fly from a ridiculous distance and forces the keeper to parry it out. Fine effort.
34' - SOUTH KOREA CHANCE! Ja-Cheol Koo picks it up and smashes in a shot from 25 yards that takes a nick off a defender and flies inches wide. So close!
39' - SOUTH KOREA CHANCE! Chu-Young Park rises well to nod it into the path of Heung-Min Son who moves to the edge of the box and then sears and effort into the stands. Woeful attempt from that distance.
47' - RUSSIA CHANCE! A Russia corner is met by Berezutski at the near post but he plants his header into the side netting.
68' - GOAL! SOUTH KOREA 1-0 RUSSIA. A disaster for the keeper! Keun-Ho Lee shoots straight at Akinfeev from 25 yards but the Russian stopper inexplicably juggles it over his own line!
74' - GOAL! SOUTH KOREA 1-1 RUSSIA. What an introduction! Kerzhakov levels within two minutes of coming off the bench. The striker pounces on the loose ball after the keeper had parried a shot from the right.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov has now joined Vladimir Beschastnykh as joint-top goalscorer for Russia with 26 goals
Kerzhakov had been on the field for three minutes and 16 seconds when he scored Russia’s equaliser.
Russia have only kept one clean sheet in their last seven World Cup games, it was against Tunisia on 5 June 2002 (2-0).
Seven of the last eight World Cup goals shipped by Russia have come in the second half.
South Korea have kept just one clean sheet in their last 10 World Cup fixtures.
Russia’s last eight World Cup strikes have come after half-time.
South Korea have only won two of their last 11 World Cup games (against Togo in 2006 and Greece in 2010).
Including games played as the Soviet Union, this is Russia’s first draw in 12 World Cup games (W4 L7).
It is the first time in four World Cups that South Korea haven’t kicked off with a win.
Both teams have scored in seven of South Korea’s last nine World Cup games.
Should Kerzhakov have started? Capello opted to bench his most experienced striker and saw his team struggle to carve out opportunities throughout the contest. The goalkeeping error forced his hand and when the Zenit man came on he helped transform the game. Kerzhakov must start Russia's next game if they are to make any impact at this tournament.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Russia): On the pitch for less than 20 minutes but the Zenit man had a huge impact. His presence added a threat to Russia's attack that had been sadly lacking and he popped up with a true poacher's goal.
Russia: Akinfeev 4, Ignashevich 7, Glushakov 5, Kokorin 5, Berezutskiy 6, Shatov 5, Zhirkov 6, Samedov 6, Fayzulin 6, Eschenko 6, Kombarov 6. Subs: Dzagoev 6, Kerzhakov 8, Denisov 6.
South Korea: Sung-Ryong 6, Suk-Young 6, Young-Gwon 6, Lee-Yong 6, Jeong-Ho 7, Ja-Cheol 6, K.Young 6, Sun-Yueng 6, Chung-Yong 6, Chu-Young 5, Heung-Min 7. Subs: Lee Keun-Ho 7, Hwang Seok-ho 6, Kim Bo-kyung n/a.
THE MATCH IN A TWEET
- Sports & Recreation
- Aleksandr Kerzhakov
- South Korea