Stuttering Uruguay held by South Korea in entertaining stalemate

AL RAYYAN (Reuters): Uruguay faltered in their World Cup opener against a lively and energetic South Korea after they were held to a 0-0 draw on Thursday in a contest where both teams struggled to find the clinical edge despite plenty of attacking quality on show.

Clear-cut chances were rare for either side in the Group H clash at the Education City Stadium and although Uruguay created more opportunities, neither team managed a shot on target.

Uruguay captain Diego Godin was denied by the woodwork while South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy, leaving both teams to rue missed chances before group rivals Portugal and Ghana meet later on Thursday.

There were only a few hundred South Korean supporters in attendance but they made enough noise to drown out Al Rayyan and were chanting away throughout the contest, the beat of their drums matching the fast and frenetic pace of play.

“We’re a very brave team, we’re not afraid of our opponents,” South Korea coach Paulo Bento told reporters.

“The bottom line is we need to control all moments of the game, knowing we’re in a different competition to our qualifiers. But this won’t hold us back from what we intend to do. And we showed today we’re capable.”

Uruguay’s first sight of goal came in the 19th minute through Federico Valverde, who connected with Jose Maria Gimenez’s pass and took a touch before firing a half-volley towards goal, but his ambitious attempt went just over the bar.

The South Americans had begun to find their footing when South Korea, having been patiently controlling the first half so far, disrupted their rhythm and launched a counter-attack from a Uruguay corner before the half-hour mark.

Son Heung-min picked up the ball on the left flank and cut inside, skipping past two Uruguay defenders before curling a right-footed effort towards goal, but left back Mathias Olivera was able to clear it away.

South Korea should have taken the lead in the 34th minute when Moon-hwan Kim fizzed the ball into the penalty area and into the path of Hwang in front of goal, but the forward could not keep his composure and sent it over the bar.

Hwang’s team mates fell to their knees after his miss and they were almost made to pay for it just before the break when centre back Godin rose highest to power a header from Valverde’s corner but it bounced off the left post and away from goal.

Gimenez made a crucial tackle to deny Son five minutes after the restart following a flowing move from South Korea, while Jung Woo-young blocked midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur’s powerful strike at the other end.

Uruguay saw more of the ball and looked dangerous as the game wore on but found few chances to break through an organised Korean defence. Forward Darwin Nunez was a threat on the counter with his pace but endured a frustrating afternoon.

Uruguay manager Diego Alonso swapped one stalwart for another when he replaced Luis Suarez with Edinson Cavani after 64 minutes and the striker was a lively presence, almost connecting with Nunez’s fizzing shot which flew wide.

Valverde unleashed a thunderbolt in the final minute of regulation time that struck the top of the post and Son had one final chance in the closing stages but dragged his shot wide.