AL RAYYAN, Qatar: In a match with plenty of grit but lacking a match-winning slice of guile, South Korea held Uruguay to a goalless draw, the fourth of this World Cup.
At the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan on Thursday (Nov 24), Paulo Bento’s men showed no signs of being overawed against opponents ranked 14 rungs ahead of them in the FIFA rankings.
Two-time world champions Uruguay (14th in the world) were semi-finalists in 2010 and quarter-finalists in 2018.
Banging on drums and waving mini flags, the South Korean fans roared their team on as the players hunted down possession and harried their opponents.
South Korea would dominate the early exchanges and fashion their first chance from a corner in the seventh minute.
However, a Son Heung-min set-piece would elude all of his teammates.
His face shielded by a black protective mask, the Tottenham Hotspur forward and South Korea captain had initially been a doubt for the game.
Son sustained multiple fractures around his left eye three weeks ago and has been training in Qatar wearing a black protective mask.
The Asian side would continue to dominate play as the first half wore on but were let down by a poor final ball on a number of occasions.
Uruguay opted for a more direct approach in the 14th minute as a long ball found Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde. However, his half-volley whistled over.
The same approach almost paid dividends minutes later. Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez tried get a toe on a Uruguay cross, but failed to connect.
The best chance of the first 45 for South Korea fell to Hwang Ui-jo after good work on the right by Kim Moon-hwan. But Hwang contrived to shoot over and should have done much better.
Then Uruguay came within inches of equalising as veteran defender Godin thumped a header onto the foot of the post just before halftime.
Godin is featuring at his fourth World Cup, along with Luis Suarez, Martin Caceres Fernando Muslera and Edinson Cavani.
This is South Korea’s tenth consecutive World Cup finals, and they have played in 11 tournaments. Their best finish was at the 2002 edition where they reached the semi-finals as co-hosts.
But they will have their work cut out for them in this tournament, being in a group which also contains Portugal and Ghana.
CONCERN FOR SON
As the South Korean fans exerted their vociferous dominance in the stands, there was a hushed moment of concern in the second half as Son went down.
Defender Martin Caceres was booked, while Son was helped to his feet to warm applause.
The teams’ paths have crossed twice previously at the World Cup - Uruguay winning both games, 1-0 in 1990 and 2-1 in 2010.
In their previous encounter, South Korea faced Uruguay in the round of 16 and were eliminated by a Suarez double.
But this time round, the ineffective Suarez lasted less than 60 minutes, and was replaced by veteran striker Cavani.
But just as Suarez did, Cavani was reduced to chasing shadows up top, as Uruguay laboured.
Nunez would come the closest 10 minutes from time, but he sent a left-footed shot sent wide.
There was a chance to Uruguay right at the death but a Valverde effort from range crashed off the post.
South Korea will next face Ghana on Monday (Nov 28), while Uruguay will go head-to-head with Portugal.
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