<
>

Uruguay draw not the worst start for South Korea at FIFA World Cup, but three points next up now a must

Son Heung-min returned to action following his recent facial injury and played the full 90 minutes as South Korea drew 0-0 with Uruguay in their Group H opener at the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Thursday. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

After seeing fellow Asian contenders Saudi Arabia and Japan pull off stunning wins over Argentina and Germany respectively in the past two days, South Korea failed to make it three in a row for the continent as they began their 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay on Thursday.

In a keenly-contested encounter at Education City Stadium that was bereft of many clear openings, South Korea's best chance came in the first half when Hwang Ui-jo blazed wildly over from decent position following a well-worked move down the right.

Nonetheless, it was Uruguay who came closest to breaking the deadlock after but the woodwork twice came to South Korea's rescue to deny Diego Godin and Federico Valverde and leave both sides with a share of the spoils.

Given how competitive Group H is shaping up to be, with Portugal and Ghana completing the quartet, a point from the opening match might not be an ideal start -- but it is also far from a devastating blow.

There were certainly positives for South Korea coach Paulo Bento.

Chief of all, talismanic captain Son Heung-min was not only fit to start the match, but looked lively throughout and was fit enough to last the 90 minutes despite it being his first match action since suffering a facial fracture at the start of the month.

While he previously was seen constantly adjusting his protective mask in training sessions ahead of Thursday, the Tottenham man looked unbothered by the facial covering as he consistently tried to create openings in the final third against Uruguay.

There is also the fact that Bento's midfield trio of Jung Woo-young, Hwang In-beom and Lee Jae-sung worked to perfection.

With Jung sitting just in front of the defence and doing most of the dirty work, Hwang and Lee were able to help the attackers offer the first line of pressure on the opposition high up the field, while also looking to provide drive forward once the South Koreans had the ball.

While the final possession count was 56% to 44% in Uruguay's favour, South Korea largely controlled proceedings in the opening hour and hardly allowed their opponents to find any real fluidity.

Then, there is also the fact that the Taegeuk Warriors were able to keep at bay a team boasting famous names such as Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez, Edinson Cavani, Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur.

Granted, they did have the woodwork to thank for two close shaves but goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu was a reliable presence between the sticks, while Kim Min-jae and Kim Young-gwon combined well to nullify any threat from the wily Suarez.

There are however areas that need improvement. Primarily, it remains to be seen if either Hwang Ui-jo or Cho Gue-sung can be the focal point in attack that leads the South Koreans to the knockout round of the World Cup.

Both will never fail to put in a tireless shift and are happy to put their body on the line and sacrifice their own play in order to bring others like Son, Lee and Hwang into play -- but there will be times when they will be needed to find the back of the net too.

As illustrated by Hwang's gilt-edged miss, his international record of 16 goals from 50 caps is just not one that instils confidence that he could be the man for the big moment when the Taegeuk Warriors really need him.

Overall, such a display on Thursday against a team 14 spots higher than them in the FIFA world rankings bodes well for South Korea ahead of their next game on Monday, when they take on Ghana.

Three points against the Ghanaians -- the lowest-placed team at the tournament in 61st place in the world rankings -- is a must, especially given their final group game will be up against Portugal.

So, one point against Uruguay is indeed alright. One point against Ghana in four days' time will not be.