Uruguay Struggles Against South Korea: World Cup Updates – The New York Times

Andrew Keh

URU flag


KOR flag

South Korea

Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Not every World Cup game will be a blockbuster.

For every explosion of offense (see: England, France, Spain) and every underdog stunner (see: Saudi Arabia, Japan), there are games whose appeal might be more narrowly confined to the connoisseurs and the purists.

Consider the opening match in the World Cup’s Group H on Thursday night, where Uruguay and South Korea sparred to a scoreless draw in front of 41,663 fans at Education City Stadium. The teams circled one another before a happily buzzing crowd, sizing each other up. But neither delivered a deciding blow.

Neither fan base will be crushed by the result, either. A point each in the opener, with Portugal awaiting both teams later in the first round, can be a fine way to start a tournament.

Uruguay was favored. It brought an experienced team to Qatar, including Martin Caceres, Diego Godín and Luis Suárez, whose inclusions in the starting lineup gave them each appearances at four World Cups. When Edinson Cavani entered midway through the second half, he, too, joined the four World Cup club.

The match was played to the ceaseless drumbeat of a small but vocal group of South Korean fans, decked in bright red, in one of the corners of the stadium. The Uruguayans chimed in periodically from the opposite corner.

Those fans — and any neutrals — were subjected to a cagey tactical battle, with South Korea working quickly, crocheting short passing sequences up the field and side to side, controlling possession until the second half, when they assumed a more defensive perspective. Uruguay, meanwhile, seemed content all night to slow the game down, to defend calmly in a low block, to pick moments to charge up the field with its fearsome stable of attackers.

The Koreans’ best chance to score in the first half materialized in the 34th minute, after they worked the ball to Hwang Ui-jo, all alone directly in front of the goal. But he skied his one-time shot over the crossbar and could only smile at his mistake.

Uruguay responded in the 43rd, when Godín rose high to thump a header toward goal, only to see it bang tantalizingly off the left post.

The Uruguayans may have felt disappointed not to get more from their star-studded squad, which includes several players making their World Cup debuts, like Darwin Núñez, who plays for Liverpool, and Frederico Valverde, who has been sharp this season for Real Madrid.

Núñez cut inside with the ball in the 81st minute and glared determinedly at goal, but he drilled his curling shot wide of the right post. About eight minutes later, Valverde drilled a shot from the outside the box that crashed into the left post, leaving the entire goal shaking.

On the South Korean side, meanwhile, all eyes were trained on Son Hueng-min, who had surgery earlier this month to repair a fractured bone in his face that had threatened his participation in the tournament. Wearing a black protective mask, Son floated around the periphery of the action, drawing murmurs whenever he picked up the ball, but, other than a shot that swerved wide in the dying moments of regulation, he mostly failed to affect play.