Uruguay and South Korea can't be split as World Cup produces another stalemate

Suarez, Nunez and Son's attacking threat fails to register in committed Group H opener

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Federico Valverde’s vigorous fist-pump at the end was the only celebration of note.

It did not follow a goal, or a win for his Uruguay, but instead a crunching tackle, right at the death. And that rather summed everything up.

Uruguay and South Korea played out a goalless draw in their Group H opener on Thursday, giving the Fifa World Cup its fourth goalless draw in five days. In Russia, in its entirety, there was one.

Neither side, although both commendably committed, taught the other a lesson at Education City Stadium.

On the surface, there appeared plenty of attacking threat. Uruguay’s front three consisted of Liverpool past and present - Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez - and, in 20-year-old Facundo Pellistri, potentially Manchester United’s future. A former Old Trafford employee, Edinson Cavani, was not yet fully fit and so began on the bench.

On the other side, Son Heung-min was deemed ready to start.

So often his side’s saviour, at least he looked the part. The Tottenham Hotspur forward was, as expected, sporting a black protective mask having sustained a fracture around his eye earlier this month while playing in the Champions League. But there’d be no super-hero turn.

South Korea had been the better in the first half, although Valverde sent a hooked volley over and Nunez misjudged completely the bounce from Pellistri’s header across goal. The Liverpool striker, who hasn’t enjoyed the greatest of seasons since his money-spinning move from Benfica, had the goal gaping, but could not connect.

Uruguay’s clearest chance fell to Diego Godin. The veteran captain, a controversial inclusion given he is now 36, met Valverde’s out-swinging corner towards the end of the half with a thumping header, but it thudded off the base of the post.

It would have been perhaps cruel on South Korea. The Asians had enjoyed more possession, and although Uruguay carved the more true opportunities, they passed with authority and pick Uruguayan pockets whenever they had possession.

For sure, South Korea should have had a goal to show for their endeavour. If only Hwang Ui-jo, the sturdy Olympiacos frontman, had not screwed his shot over the Uruguay crossbar following a lovely set-up from Kim Moon-hwan. Hwang held his head in his hands. Manager Paulo Bento, standing on his touchline down that end of the pitch, did also.

Son, predictably, carried Korea’s greatest threat. In the first half, he skipped past full-back Martin Caceres and inside the retreating Valverde, but his cross was cleared.

At the beginning of the second half, Son seemed set to unleash a trademark curling shot, yet this time, Caceres’ counterpart on the opposite flank, Jose Gimenez, was wise to it. Not duped by Son’s feint to shoot, the Atletico Madrid defender slid in to take the ball.

Not long after, a slight scare for Bento and team. Receiving the ball with his back to Caceres, Son felt the Uruguayan’s studs rake down his Achilles. The contact was such that it removed the Korea captain’s boot. Caceres was booked; Son up again after some attention from his medical staff.

Nunez, meanwhile, showed a remarkable turn of pace to race down Uruguay’s left, but his low centre to Suarez was cut out by Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu.

From there, Suarez was withdrawn for Cavani. In truth, the former Liverpool forward, now supposedly winding down his career in his homeland with Nacional – he did help them to the domestic title last month – had little impact. He had 18 touches in 64 minutes, none in the Korean area.

In contrast, Cho Gue-sung’s first couple weren’t bad. However, the South Korean substitute, only just introduced, pulled wide a rasping shot. Then, Nunez sent an effort beyond the far post.

With a minute remaining, the effervescent Valverde fired his crashing against the Korean upright. Seconds later, following a mix-up in the Uruguay defence, Son drilled a shot wide.

Plainly, both teams were trying. But it wasn’t to be. Valverde threw himself into an opponent and bounced up beating his chest. It maybe just elicited the loudest roar of the night from his compatriots all around.

Updated: November 24, 2022, 3:51 PM