AL-RAYAN, Qatar (AP) – Another favorite failed to impress in the early stages of the World Cup.
This time it was South Korea who held a goalless draw with Uruguay, the South American powerhouse, on Thursday, a result that may well favor the Asian side.
The draw at Education City Stadium was another early World Cup match and a surprising result. Argentina and Germany both lost their opening matches in massive upsets. This hinted at being another.
Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said he was satisfied, as did his South Korean counterpart Paulo Bento. Alonso looked less convincing.
“I am very happy with the result,” said Alonso. “I am sure that this group stage will be decided by the last match. We all know that the second game is essential, as well as the third. But this will not affect whether we qualify or not.”
Uruguay will meet Portugal in Group H, while South Korea will play Ghana in both matches on Monday. The two best teams in the group will advance to the round of 16.
South Korea, with striker Son Heung-min wearing a mask to protect his left eye socket, always looked more likely to score against the more experienced Uruguayans. The South Koreans were faster pressing from the whistle.
Many South Korean fans wore masks resembling Batman in solidarity with Son, who was injured on November 2 in a Champions League match playing with English club Tottenham. He had some early chances but looked tired in the second half.
“He (the son) was seriously injured,” Pinto said. “He was inactive for a long period of time. He was only able to get back with the team in recent days. Of course it’s normal after an injury that it takes him some time to adapt. But I think overall we did well.”
In a match where scoring chances were few, and South Korea were mostly in control, Uruguay had the best chances to score: Diego Godín headed the post in the 43rd minute and Federico Valverde headed it in the 89th.
Alonso started an attacking line-up with Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellestri up front, and Valverde and Matias Vecino in midfield. But they rarely had the ball at first.
South Korea pressed ahead early and Son got the crowd excited every time he touched the ball, but he managed just one attack in the first half. South Korea always looks faster than Uruguay, but not necessarily the most dangerous. The team’s best chance came in the 34th minute when Hwang Ui-ju’s close range sailed over the bar.
As the second half wore on, Uruguay started to gain more possession, but always looked cautious, taking fewer initiatives despite having more experienced players.
Son fell to a heap early in the second half as Martin Caceres picked up the first yellow card of the match.
Alonso sent Edinson Cavani on to Suarez in the 64th minute as the game slowed until Valverde hit the post in the dying minutes.
“In the first 20 minutes, we struggled against Correa,” said Alonso. “We couldn’t take the ball from them. We couldn’t get any pressure in and we lost accuracy.
“Obviously, the second half we dominated a lot more. I think we were better than them, but we lacked a little bit of attacking. I mean attacking more. We tried to be more competitive as well.”
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