Uruguay and South Korea battled to a goalless draw in their Group H opener at the 2022 World Cup.
The South American side started with Liverpool forwards past and present as Darwin Nunez lined up alongside Luis Suarez, while Heung-Min Son was fit enough to start for South Korea after his recent fractured eye socket, but none of them could find the breakthrough despite a lively encounter in Qatar.
It leaves both sides’ chances of reaching the last 16 wide open, as Uruguay prepares to face Portugal next, while South Korea meets Ghana.
Big moments in the game…
- 34 mins: Moon-Hwan Kim finds Ui-jo Hwang in space in the box, but he fires over the crossbar.
- 44 mins: Diego Godin rises highest at a corner but heads against the South Korea post.
- 90 mins: Federico Valverde rattles the post with a fierce drive from distance for Uruguay.
Uruguay hit the post twice but no breakthrough in Group H opener
South Korea came out with plenty of attacking intent and endeavour, but lacked a clinical edge in front of goal. Their best chance of the first half came after 34 minutes as Moon-Hwan Kim found Ui-Jo Hwang in space in the box, but he could only fire over the crossbar.
Just before the break, Uruguay should have taken the lead themselves as Diego Godin rose highest at a corner, but his header rattled the post before bouncing clear.
Uruguay went close again towards the end as Federico Valverde’s fierce drive from just outside the box slammed against the outside of the woodwork, before Son went up the other end and lashed just wide himself from range.
Premier League watch: Pellistri struggles to make his mark
There were plenty of Premier League stars on show at the Education City Stadium, but one name that caught the eye on the team sheets was that of Facundo Pellistri.
Aged 20, the winger is yet to make a senior appearance for Manchester United, but was handed a start and his eighth cap by Uruguay head coach Diego Alonso.
Lining up in a front three alongside Nunez and Suarez, Pellistri was lively at times but ultimately struggled to have much of an impact in his 88 minutes on the pitch. To be fair, he was not really alone there. It will be interesting to see if Alonso sticks with him for the next game, or perhaps reverts to the experience of Edinson Cavani instead.
Suarez holding Uruguay back?
Sky Sports’ Adam Williams:
Luis Suarez once struck fear into every opponent, and he remains dangerous but his presence against South Korea forced his side to box one-handed.
Physically, the 35-year-old is not what he was. The former Liverpool and Barcelona striker struggled to keep pace with the speedy South Koreans. As a result, he could not get in the game.
This impacted Uruguay in two ways. When there was a chance in the box, Suarez was unable to capitalize as defenders swarmed around him, and when the South Americans were off the ball, their forward did not or could not press. This effectively left Uruguay playing with 10 players.
You sense he was on the pitch to steal a goal in the box with his incredible instincts, weighed up as a compromise for what he can no longer bring.
The compromise, though, went further than Uruguay being a man down. It meant others failed to shine as bright as they can. Darwin Nunez of Liverpool, since arriving in the Premier League, has terrorized defenses, causing carnage as he runs through the middle. However, with Suarez in the center, Nunez was unable to do that for his national team, confined to the left wing where, as much as he tried, he was unable to get in the areas where he can be so dangerous.
The perfect storm of pace, energy and counter-attacking excellence of South Korea exaggerated the regression of one of the Premier League’s most prolific strikers.
If the first-ever World Cup winners want to progress from the group stage, they will need to forget the past. Not 1930, sadly, their No 9.
Bento: Son will need time to re-adapt
South Korea boss Paolo Bento says Son will require time to reach peak fitness after his recent facial injury, after the Spurs forward struggled to make an impact against Uruguay.
“Son is a player who, up until his injury, had continuous rhythm and good performance,” said Bento.
“He had a serious injury, he was inactive for a considerable time. He only joined the team in the last few days.
“After an injury and being exposed to more aggressive games, it is natural it will take him some steps to re-adapt.”
- 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 – indeed, Wayne Rooney was the last player to net against them in a group stage match (for England in June 2014).
- There was only one shot on target in this match (by Uruguay), despite the two teams amassing 17 shots between them – since 1966 (when this data is available), only Denmark v Scotland in 1986 has featured more total shots (27) with only one of them being on target.
- At the age of 36 years and 281 days, Diego Godín 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.
What does the result mean?
It leaves Group H wide open for both sides as they head into their second group games on Monday, with Uruguay meeting Portugal, and South Korea facing Ghana.