South Korea’s inclusion of Son Heung-min failed to inspire them as they drew 0-0 with Uruguay in World Cup Group H.
Son’s participation had been called into question following his fractured eye socket in the Champions League match against Marseille on November 1.
He was declared fit thanks to a facemask, but aside from a few nice touches, he didn’t have the impact that coach Paulo Bento would have liked – and it could have been much worse for the Asian side had Federico Valverde’s late piledriver gone in rather than rattled the post.
Valverde’s performance was a rare source of inspiration for Uruguay as Darwin Nunez and Luis Suarez toiled, with both teams focusing on safety first, fearful of losing their opening game and jeopardizing their qualification hopes.
South Korea’s best chance came after 34 minutes, when Hwang Ui-jo fired over the bar from eight yards out, while Uruguay’s Diego Godin also hit the crossbar.
In the early stages, the long ball from the left side of defense to the right wing appeared to be Uruguay’s most potent attacking weapon, producing two chances in three minutes.
Valverde intercepted Jose Gimenez’s pass and fired left-footed over the top, and Facundo Pellistri nodded another Gimenez pass back across goal, but Nunez missed his kick from six yards out.
South Korea was neat and hardworking, but it lacked innovation. When they did find an opening, it was quickly squandered, with Hwang missing the target after Kim Moon-hwan had fled down the right.
Godin had the best chance of the first half after 43 minutes when he rose highest to meet Valverde’s corner but headed against the left-hand upright with Korea keeper Kim Seung-gyu beat.
The second period lacked attacking cohesion, but Uruguay capitalized on the few chances that were created.
Nunez had a low cross intended for Suarez palmed away by Kim Seung-gyu, substitute Edinson Cavani had a shot blocked by the sliding challenge of Kim Min-jae, and Nunez curled an effort wide from the edge of the box 10 minutes from time.
The best moment came in the final minute of normal time when Valverde lined one up from 30 yards out and smacked it against the woodwork.
What does it imply? In Group H, everything is on the line.
With so much to lose by failing to win your first group game, it’s not surprising that so many teams are playing risk-free football. The teams combined for 17 shots, but only one was on target.
Suarez is having difficulty.
Suarez, now 35, had just two touches in the opposition box in 64 minutes and looked a shadow of the player who once terrorized defenses across Europe during his heyday at Liverpool and Barcelona.
Granted, his supply line was limited, but the old Suarez could create a chance and a goal out of thin air.
Valverde stands out among the mediocrity.
There wasn’t much quality on display, but Real Madrid midfielder Valverde demonstrated his undeniable talent.
The 24-year-old was the driving force in Uruguay’s engine room, and he nearly won it late on with a blistering strike that rebounded off the post.
- Uruguay has only lost their first World Cup game three times in 14 appearances (W6 D5), with three of the last six being goalless draws (1990, 2010 and 2022).
- South Korea has kept consecutive World Cup clean sheets for the first time, after defeating Germany 2-0 in their previous match in 2018. They are also unbeaten in a row for the first time since 2006.
- Only England (16%) has a higher share of goalless draws in the World Cup than Uruguay (14% – 8/57) among teams that have played 50 or more games.
- Uruguay has gone 465 minutes without conceding a goal in the World Cup group stage, and this is their fifth consecutive clean sheet. The last player to score against them in a group match was Wayne Rooney (for England in 2014).
- At the age of 36 years and 281 days, Godin became Uruguay’s oldest player to play in a World Cup match. This was his 15th appearance in the competition, the most for any Uruguayan outfielder at the World Cup.
What comes next?
On Monday, these two teams will resume play. South Korea will face Ghana, while Uruguay will face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.