Returning Son Heung-min failed to inspire South Korea, as the Tigers of Asia began their Group H World Cup campaign on Thursday with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay in Qatar. Uruguay captain Diego Godin and Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde came closest to breaking the deadlock by hitting the woodwork in each half, while Hwang Ui-jo squandered Korea’s best chance by firing a shot from 10 yards out with only the goalkeeper to beat. It was a game of few chances as neither Son on one side nor Uruguay’s formidable forwards Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani could find a clear opening.
With games against Ghana and group favorites Portugal on the horizon, both sides seemed more intent on not losing than on aiming for victory at Doha’s Education City stadium. Both coaches were pleased with the point.
“This was a very good game from our side, we were better in the first half, we had a lot of moments where we controlled the game,” said Portugal coach of Korea Paulo Bento.
“After the break we weren’t at our best. We suffered a bit because they are high quality players, but we also did well in that situation and conceded very little.”
Uruguay’s Diego Alonso added: “It was a good game, an exciting game with two competitive countries. The first half, especially the first 20 minutes, we struggled, we couldn’t get the ball from them.
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“But it was good that we were able to adapt after that and dominate the second half.”
Son struggles ‘naturally’
The start of the match turned into a predictable pattern as Korea got off to a fast start and Uruguay sat deep and took the pressure without giving anything away. The South Americans in particular kept the Korean danger man Son quiet.
Uruguay created its first clear chances when two cross field balls from center back Jose Maria Gimenez picked out runners that came in at an angle.
Valverde shot the first over the crossbar, while Nunez failed to make good contact on the second from just eight yards out with the target at his mercy. Just after the hour mark, Korea should have been in front after a slick passing movement opened up Uruguay’s defense, but unmarked from 10 yards out, Hwang fired the ball high over the crossbar. Godin then came closest to scoring when he hit the inside of the post with a header from Valverde’s swinging corner.
Neither side could get their game changers into the match as Son was clearly not fully fit and was playing his first game since surgery on a broken bone around his eye at the start of the month against Marseille in the Champions League.
“He was inactive for quite some time, he was only able to reintegrate our team in the last few days,” Bento said of Son’s understated performance. “It’s normal that after an injury…he needs some time to readjust.”
On the other hand, Suarez, Uruguay’s all-time record goalscorer, was a peripheral figure and was replaced midway through the second period by fellow veteran Cavani.
Korea seemed to have settled for a point more and more, but coach Paulo Bento enlisted fan favorite Lee Kang-in to inject some energy and trickery into a flagging squad.
However, Uruguay remained the more dangerous side and Cavani hit Nunez who shot just wide. The Korean hearts were pounding as Valverde landed a long-range strike from the upright, before Son shot wide at the other end as both sides had chances to win it in stoppage time.
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