Who: Uruguay versus South Korea, Group H
Where: Education City Stadium
When: Thursday, November 24, at 16:00 (13:00 GMT)
FIFA rankings: Uruguay (14), South Korea (28)
The opening game in Group H is perhaps the one that solves a question that concerns many: Who will move out of the group to the round of 16 together with Portugal?
The fourth team in the group, Ghana’s Black Stars, is ranked 61th in the world and is not preferred to get through the first round. And apart from a natural disaster, Cristiano Ronaldo will lead his Portuguese team into the knock-out phase in his fifth and probably last attempt to win the World Cup.
This means that the remaining place is expected to be decided on Thursday in just over 90 minutes.
This game could depend on Edinson Cavani. The slim Valencia striker, formerly with Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain, is one of the best strikers of his generation. He scored more than 200 club goals and 58 in a Uruguay shirt.
And Cavani is joined on Uruguay’s front lines by Luis Suarez, who is always hungry for fame — when he’s not snatching away at opponents. Meanwhile, Darwin Núñez from Liverpool will also be fighting for a spot in coach Diego Alonso’s preferred two-striker line-up.
Most of Uruguay’s national teams play outside the country: 12 play in top European leagues. International players Suarez, defender Jose Luis Rodriguez and goalkeeper Sergio Rochet are the only players in Uruguay’s 26-strong squad to play in Uruguay.
other hand, 13 of the South Korean players play in their country. The question is: Is individual players’ experience with top European soccer more important than the team cohesion achieved by a squad focused on a national league?
Son Heung-min from South Korea and Tottenham, meanwhile, is a man you can rely on to deliver for his country in big games. South Korean athletes who win gold at the Asian Games are offered exemptions from military service. Son led his team to the 2018 final under pressure and both delivered pinpoint assists in South Korea’s 2-1 win over Japan.
Nine from the 2018 Asian Games roster have joined Captain Son in Qatar, including Olympiacos team-mates Hwang In-beom and Hwang Ui-jo. This is a team whose bond goes beyond any playing field.
For Uruguay, any result apart from a win would be a disappointment. But South Korea, which excluded defending champions Germany from the 2010 World Cup, has shown that they can create excitement. And a team from Asia has already amazed a South American giant at this World Cup. Will there be a repeat on Thursday?