Both sides played an entertaining clash with a flurry of missed opportunities.
It’d take a particular kind of silliness to label as dark horses a country that has won the World Cup twice; made the last eight, the last 16 and the last four in the previous three tournaments, and been champions of South America 15 times. But Uruguay start this competition as outsiders, despite a pedigree rooted both in history and the present.
Partly, that reflects the difficulty of the group they’re in; but even so, this is unreflective of a squad packed with class and wildness.
Boasting José María Giménez at the back, Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur in midfield, with Darwin Núñez and Luis Suárez up front, Uruguay were coming to this match confident.
The same could be said about South Korea. Son Heung-min was fit – though perhaps not match fit – while Jeong Woo-Yeong’s Freiburg have made a fine start to the Bundesliga season. That gave them a decent goal threat, while in defence they have the solidity and security of players who’ve been together a long time.
While the match was filled with players of wonderful ability and quality, nobody really tested the goalkeepers with a final touch. In fact, the match broke the record for the fewest shots one target (1), with many chances off target. Both teams will be unhappy about the slew of chances they squandered during their buildups.
The first half started with Korea in the front foot. Swift and adroit in midfield, In-beom wriggled around Vecino, but was immediately punished with some Uruguayan justice. Korea then tried to stretch the play really well, and again Na-Sang Ho kept the width down the right wing and they find him. He couldn’t find a decent cross.
But then Uruguay slowly got back in the game. Olivera led a Uruguayan counter, with Darwin Nunez nicely positioned. But with so much space and time to measure the pass, Olivera overhit his pass when there was so much margin of error to stick his mate in on the keeper.
There were more chances for Nunez and Godin, who hit the post in the first half, but they were still wasted.
Similar second half
The second half was no different; the intriguing setup devoid of goals continued. Right off the bat, Jinsu finds Son, who isolated Gimenez and looks to skirt around him; if he could, he would have a shot on goal. But Gimemez didn’t fall for the feint, and timed his challenge to perfection – another chance wasted.
Uruguay continued to up the pressure afterwards, but Korea continued to defend superbly. Uruguay probed, and they got Pellistri on the ball and in space. But this time, his cross aimed for Cavani was read by a defender who dived to head clear.
In the closing minutes, Son seemed to establish his presence. He isolated Caceres and showed Pellistri how it’s done; a skip inside inciting the shift of weight that allows him to dip outside, but Spurs teammate Bentancur forced to hump clear his low cross.
The last big chance would come for Uruguay’s Valverde, who’s looked promising when on the ball. He took it 30 yards out, got a look, then absolutely exploded into a screeching drive that clatters the near post.
In all, both teams showed a great defensive outing, however poor finishing resulted in the 0-0 score.
Uruguay may face a tougher fixture in Portugal this Monday, when South Korea will face Ghana.