Son Heung-min’s inclusion failed to inspire South Korea as his side played out a disappointing 0-0 draw with Uruguay in World Cup Group H.
Son’s participation had been in doubt in the build-up after the Tottenham striker fractured an eye socket in the Champions League clash with Marseille on November 1.
He was declared fit, aided by a facemask, but, a few nice touches aside, failed to impact the game the way coach Paulo Bento would have liked – and it could have been much worse for the Asian side had Federico Valverde’s late piledriver gone in rather than rattled the post.
Valverde’s effort was a rare moment of inspiration for Uruguay as Darwin Nunez and Luis Suarez toiled with both teams adopting a safety-first approach, wary of losing their opening game and putting their qualification hopes at risk.
Hwang Ui-jo had South Korea’s best chance, firing over the bar from eight yards after 34 minutes, while Diego Godin also struck the woodwork for Uruguay.
The long ball from the left-side of defence to the right-wing appeared Uruguay’s greatest attacking weapon in the early stages and it produced two chances in the space of three minutes.
From the first, Valverde took down Jose Gimenez’s pass and fired left-footed over the top, and shortly afterwards, another Gimenez pass was nodded back across goal by Facundo Pellistri but Nunez missed his kick from six yards out.
South Korea were neat and industrious but lacked a cutting edge. And when they did carve out an opening, it was promptly squandered, Hwang missing he target after Kim Moon-hwan had escaped down the right.
The best chance of the opening half came after 43 minutes when Godin rose highest to meet Valverde’s corner but placed his header against the left-hand upright with Korea keeper Kim Seung-gyu beaten.
The second period lacked any attacking cohesion, although the few chances that were created fell the way of Uruguay.
Nunez saw a low cross, intended for Suarez, palmed away by Kim Seung-gyu, substitute Edinson Cavani had a shot blocked by the sliding challenge of Kim Min-jae while, 10 minutes from time, Nunez curled an effort wide from the edge of the box.
The best moment came in the last minute of normal time, however, Valverde lining one up from 30 yards and crashing his shot against the woodwork.