Son Heung-min’s inclusion failed to inspire South Korea as his side played out a disappointing 0-0 draw with Uruguay in World Cup Group H.
Son’s participation had been in doubt in the build-up after the Tottenham striker fractured an eye socket in the Champions League clash with Marseille on November 1.
He was declared fit, aided by a facemask, but, a few nice touches aside, failed to impact the game the way 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 effort was a rare moment of inspiration for Uruguay as Darwin Nunez and Luis Suarez toiled with both teams adopting a safety-first approach, wary of losing their opening game and putting their qualification hopes at risk.
Hwang Ui-jo had South Korea’s best chance, firing over the bar from eight yards after 34 minutes, while Diego Godin also struck the woodwork for Uruguay.
The long ball from the left-side of defence to the right-wing appeared Uruguay’s greatest attacking weapon in the early stages and it produced two chances in the space of three minutes.
From the first, Valverde took down Jose Gimenez’s pass and fired left-footed over the top, and shortly afterwards, another Gimenez pass was nodded back across goal by Facundo Pellistri but Nunez missed his kick from six yards out.
South Korea were neat and industrious but lacked a cutting edge. And when they did carve out an opening, it was promptly squandered, Hwang missing the target after Kim Moon-hwan had escaped down the right.
The best chance of the opening half came after 43 minutes when Godin rose highest to meet Valverde’s corner but placed his header against the left-hand upright with Korea keeper Kim Seung-gyu beaten.
The second period lacked any attacking cohesion, although the few chances that were created fell the way of Uruguay.
Nunez saw 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 while, 10 minutes from time, Nunez curled an effort wide from the edge of the box.
The best moment came in the last minute of normal time, however, Valverde lining one up from 30 yards and crashing his shot against the woodwork.
What does it mean? All to play for in Group H
With so much to be lost by taking nothing from your first group game, it is perhaps not surprising to see so many sides playing risk-free football. The teams combined for 17 shots in total but just one on target.
Suarez, now 35 years old, managed just two touches in the opposition box in his 64 minutes on the field and looked a shadow of the player that once tormented defences across Europe in his heyday at Liverpool and Barcelona.
Granted his supply line was sparse but the old Suarez could conjure up a chance, and a goal, out of nothing.
Valverde shines amongst the mediocrity
There was not much quality on show but Real Madrid midfielder Valverde did show his undoubted ability.
The 24-year-old was the driving force in the Uruguay engine room and almost won it late on with a blistering strike that came back off the post.
Key Opta Stats:
– Uruguay have only lost their opening game of a World Cup tournament in three of their 14 appearances (W6 D5), while three of the last six have been goalless draws (1990, 2010 and 2022).
– South Korea have kept consecutive clean sheets at the World Cup for the first time, having won 2-0 against Germany in their previous match in 2018. They are also unbeaten in consecutive games for the first time since 2006.
– Among teams who have played 50+ games at the World Cup, only England (16 per cent) have a higher share of goalless draws in the tournament than Uruguay (14 per cent – 8/57).
– Uruguay have gone 465 minutes since they last conceded a goal in the group stage of the World Cup, with this being their fifth such consecutive clean sheet. Wayne Rooney was the last player to net against them in a group match (for England in 2014).
– At the age of 36 years and 281 days, Godin became the oldest player to appear for Uruguay in a World Cup match. This was his 15th start in the competition; the most of any outfield player for Uruguay at the World Cup.
These two sides return to action on Monday. South Korea take on Ghana while Uruguay come up against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.