DOHA: Returning Son Heung-min could not inspire South Korea as the Asian Tigers kicked off their World Cup Group H campaign with a goalless draw with Uruguay in Qatar on Thursday.
Uruguay captain Diego Godin and Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde came close to breaking the deadlock when they hit the woodwork each half, while Hwang Ui-ju missed Korea’s best chance, parrying a shot from just 10 yards out for the goalkeeper to beat.
It was a game with few chances as neither Son nor the feared Uruguay strikers Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani could find a clear chance.
With matches against Ghana and group favourites, Portugal, both sides seemed more intent on not losing than chasing a win at Doha’s Education City Stadium.
The early part of the match settled into a predictable pattern as Korea got off to a fast start and Uruguay sat deep, absorbing pressure without giving anything away.
In particular, the South Americans kept Korean danger man Son calm.
Uruguay created the first clear chances as two crosses from centre-back Jose Maria Jimenez picked off runners coming in from a corner.
Valverde sliced the first over the bar, while Núñez failed to make proper contact in the second from just eight yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Just after the hour mark, Correa should have been on top after a brilliant pass opened the Uruguay defence, but unmarked 10 yards out, Hwang fired the ball high over the bar.
Godin then came close when he headed inside the post from Valverde’s outside corner kick.
Neither team was able to change their style of play in the match, as Son was clearly not fully fit, playing his first game since fracturing a bone around his eye at the start of the month against Marseille in the Champions League.
On the other hand, Suarez, Uruguay’s all-time top scorer, was a peripheral figure and was replaced midway through the second half by fellow veteran Cavani.
Korea increasingly looked like they had settled on a point, but coach Paulo Bento brought in favorite Lee Kang-in to inject some energy and guile into the groggy side.
Uruguay, however, remained the more dangerous side and Cavani played Núñez, who fired just wide.
The Koreans’ hearts were on their mouths when Valverde deflected a long-range strike off the post, before Son fired wide at the other end as both sides had chances to win it in stoppage time.