Uruguay and South Korea began their World Cup campaign by splitting the points in the fourth goalless draw Qatar has seen over its first 14 games.
An absorbing if occasionally low quality first half brought chances for both teams to take hold of the game, Diego Godin going closest when his header cracked against the bottom of the post off Federico Valverde’s service. His miss was not the most egregious, however. Hwang Hi-Jo contrived to lift the ball over an open goal after excellent work by Kim Moon-Hwan down the right.
The zip with which both sides approached the first half did not particularly follow them back out of the tunnel after the interval. South Korea began to take control of the contest but could not break down an obdurate Uruguayan defense. Heung-min Son was denied just as he was about to pull the trigger by a diving Jose Maria Gimenez. Substitute Cho Gue-Sung spun and shot wide from outside the box with 10 minutes to go but this was a game that was swiftly tapering towards a share of the points.
Uruguay largely settled for pot shots though Federico Valverde very nearly made the most of one, smacking an effort against the post as the clock ran down. Seven minutes of added time seemed rather more like a curse than a kindness, before the final whistle blew.
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Is Nunez wasted on the left?
Speaking pre-match Uruguay head coach Diego Alonso made great emphasis on how much of a welcome dilemma it was to try to fit his numerous striking options together. Whilst it is a better problem than not having any forwards of repute, it did not seem like the 4-3-3 he deployed put his best talents in their best positions, particularly Darwin Nunez.
Though the young striker has often played on the left for Liverpool, he has not seemed as obliged to track back as he did today, where he spent far too much of the first half. It is not a great sign of how your side is playing if one of the world’s most expensive and highly touted strikers ends the game with as many ball recoveries in the defensive third as Diego Godin.
When he was able to attack, particularly on the occasions where Mathias Olivera overlapped on the left, he looked by far Uruguay’s most likely route to goal. He might only have taken one shot but it was a tempting one, bending the ball wide from range after being teed up by Edinson Cavani.
One brilliant dart down the left saw him cause chaos down the South Korean backline but the issue is when the cutback came Uruguayans would rather have been hoping it was Nunez receiving it rather than delivering. Instead there were precious few options because Luis Suarez consistently seemed off the pace, failing to register a shot or create a chance for a team mate. That he was invariably too far behind the play was typified in him registering eight touches in his own half and two in the penalty area.
Cavani offered a more physical presence off the bench, but Alonso’s plans should really start with getting Nunez in the prime spots to make an impact.
South Korea look well suited to this World Cup
Qatar 2022 is already four times better than Russia 2018 when it comes to producing tedious 0-0 draws, don’t rule out South Korea adding one more before this competition is out. That is only a partial criticism because the two banks of four anchored by Napoli’s Kim Min-Jae will not be broken down easily… if the opposition can get that far. At the top of the pitch, the frontline pressed with real energy, their 10 possessions regains in the final third, the most of any side at the World Cup so far.
The issue might be what they do from there on. Hwang’s miss stood out as a major error, but the bigger concern for Paulo Bento might be how infrequently they turned those high ball recoveries into real chances. Only in flashes did Son look like the player who terrified Premier League defenses for years on end. That might be down to the facial injury that has forced him to wear a mask at this tournament but it should be noted that he was struggling for consistency at Tottenham even before undergoing surgery on the bones around his eye. If he cannot deliver moments of magic then goals may not come very frequently in the next two games involving South Korea.