Uruguay’s pursuit of their first World Cup title in 72 years begins at the Education City Stadium against Asian heavyweights South Korea on Thursday.
With Portugal and Ghana meeting each other in the other Group H encounter, La Celeste will be seeking a flying start to their fourth consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals.
Each of Uruguay’s last three World Cup participations has witnessed their progression into the knockout stage, underpinning head coach Diego Alonso’s lofty ambitions.
The standout duo, but both veterans now, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, are heading into their final World Cup with retirement edging ever closer.
Both long-serving national team stalwarts can be in peace, knowing Liverpool star Darwin Nunez is ready to soak up the limelight as the spear of Alonso’s star-studded attack.
Following a mixed start to his Premier League adventure, the 23-year-old will be desperate to impress in Qatar as the South Americans enter the tournament in high spirits.
Having suffered just one defeat in nine matches in 2022 (W7, D1), Uruguay can be forgiven for dreaming big this winter, but first, they’ll have to cope with South Korea.
With headline performer Son Heung-min timing his return from injury to perfection, the Koreans should take the field with high expectations, especially after performing well in the pre-tournament campaign.
Spanning back to September’s international break, the Taegeuk Warriors have racked up two wins and a draw in their three warm-up fixtures in the lead-up to Qatar, registering two shut-outs in the process.
Despite ending their ‘Russia 2018’ campaign in the quarter-finals, Uruguay recorded four victories during that tournament, tying the most wins they have ever had in a single World Cup edition.
However, it’s up to Alonso to motivate his players to fly out of the traps for once after Uruguay only managed one opening-day win in their last seven World Cup appearances (D3, L3).
Not even a disappointment in this fixture may dampen La Celeste’s bid to qualify for the round of 16, as they’ve progressed from their group five times across those seven tournaments.
South Korea only lost once in their ten third-round matches of Asian qualifiers (W7, D2) to secure their tenth consecutive World Cup participation, an impressive run stretching back to 1986.
Since Bento can call upon Son and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Hwan Hee-chan, it’s somewhat surprising the Taegeuk Warriors averaged just 1.3 goals per game in those ten fixtures.
But defensively, they were spot on, conceding just three goals in that stretch, fewer than any other Asian side to have featured in the third-round qualifying cycle.
Uruguay vs South Korea Head-to-Head
Uruguay have come out victorious in both previous World Cup clashes against South Korea. After a 1-0 win in the 1990 group stages, they crashed the Koreans out of the 2010 last-16 by a tight 2-1 scoreline.
Suarez, who scored twice back then, will hope history repeats itself in Al Rayyan.
Uruguay vs South Korea Potential Line-ups
Uruguay (4-3-3): Sergio Rochet; Guillermo Varela, Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez, Mathias Olivera; Rodrigo Bentancur, Federico Valverde, Matias Vecino; Facundo Pellistri, Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez.
South Korea (4-3-3): Kim Seung-gyu; Yoon Jong-gyu, Kim Min-jae, Kim Young-gwon, Kim Jin-su; Jung Woo-young, Hwang In-beom, Kwon Chang-hoon; Hwang Hee-chan, Hwang Ui-jo, Son Heung-min.
Uruguay vs South Korea Prediction
As mentioned above, Uruguay have enjoyed a phenomenal 2022, but based on Argentina’s nightmare against Saudi Arabia, they cannot take anything for granted.
La Celeste are favourites against a disciplined Korean side that boasts formidable defensive quality, plus can prove tricky to handle in the attacking third, given the intimidating presence of Son.
We anticipate a share of the spoils in a match that may produce one goal on each side.
Uruguay 1-1 South Korea
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