The returning Son Heung-min failed to inspire South Korea as the Asian Tigers kicked off their Group H World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay in Qatar on Thursday.
Uruguay captain Diego Godin and Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde were closest to breaking the deadlock with a woodwork hit in each half, while Hwang Ui-Jo missed Korea’s best chance with a 10-yard strike and only the goalkeeper could kick.
It was a game of little chance as neither Son on one side nor formidable Uruguay strikers Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani were able to open up.
Ahead of the matches against Ghana and group favorites Portugal, both sides seemed to be more interested in not losing than aiming for victory at Doha’s Education City Stadium.
At the beginning of the match, a predictable picture developed: Korea started quickly, and Uruguay sat deep, absorbing pressure, but not yielding anything.
In particular, the South Americans kept the Korean Danger Man Son a secret.
Uruguay created the first clear chances when two balls across the field from centre-back José María Jiménez hit angled runners.
Valverde clipped the first ball over the bar while Nunes failed to touch the second ball properly from just eight yards and the goal was in his power.
Just past the hour mark, Korea should have been ahead after a nimble pass opened up Uruguay’s defense, but after missing 10 yards, Hwang hit the ball high over the bar.
Godin was then closest to scoring when he headed the inside of the post from a Valverde corner.
Neither side was able to turn the tide in the match as Son was clearly not in full form, having played his first match since undergoing surgery for a broken bone around his eye, undergoing earlier this month against Marseille in the Champions League.
On the other hand, Suárez, Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer, was a side figure and was replaced midway through the second period by fellow veteran Cavani.
Korea seemed to be more and more willing to take a point, but coach Paulo Bento brought in fan favorite Lee Kang-in to inject some energy and cunning into the waning team.
Uruguay, however, remained the more dangerous side, and Cavani passed Nunez, who shot wide.
The hearts of the Koreans were elated when Valverde broke a long shot on the upright before Son fired the other end as both sides had chances to win in injury time.