Uruguay have some of world football’s biggest names, but South Korea have Son Heung-min.
Who: Uruguay vs South Korea, Group H
Where: Education City Stadium
When: Thursday, November 24, at 4pm (13:00 GMT)
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FIFA ranking: Uruguay (14), South Korea (28)
The opening game in Group H may be the one which resolves a question that’s on the minds of many: Who’s going to join Portugal from the group in moving into the round of 16?
The fourth team in the group, Ghana’s Black Stars, are ranked 61 in the world and aren’t favoured to make it out of the first round. And Cristiano Ronaldo will, barring some kind of natural disaster, be steering his Portuguese side into the knock-out stages in his fifth and likely final bid to lift the World Cup.
That means the remaining place is likely to be decided in a little over 90 minutes on Thursday.
This game might hinge on Edinson Cavani. The lean Valencia forward, formerly of Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain, is among the finest strikers of his generation, netting more than 200 club goals and 58 in an Uruguay shirt.
And Cavani is joined on Uruguay’s front line by Luis Suarez, who is always hungry for a bite of glory – when he isn’t chomping on opponents. All while Darwin Núñez of Liverpool will also be fighting for a place in coach Diego Alonso’s preferred two-striker formation.
Most of Uruguay’s national squad play outside of the country: 12 play in top European leagues. Nacional team-mates Suarez, defender Jose Luis Rodriguez and goalkeeper Sergio Rochet are the only players of Uruguay’s 26-man squad to play in Uruguay.
By contrast, 13 of South Korea’s players play in their country. The question is: Does individuals’ experience of top-quality European football count for more than the team cohesion achieved through a squad centred on a domestic league?
Son Heung-min, of South Korea and Tottenham, meanwhile, is a man who can be counted on to deliver for his country in big games. Exemptions from military service are offered to South Korean athletes who win gold at the Asian Games. Leading his team to the 2018 final, with the pressure on, Son provided both pinpoint goal-assists in South Korea’s 2-1 victory over Japan.
Nine from that 2018 Asian Games squad have joined captain Son in Qatar, including Olympiacos team-mates Hwang In-beom and Hwang Ui-jo. This is a team whose bonds stretch beyond any pitch.
For Uruguay, any result other than a win would be a disappointment. But South Korea, who knocked defending world champions Germany out of the 2010 World Cup, have shown they can cause an upset. And one team from Asia has already stunned a South American giant in this World Cup. Will there be a repeat on Thursday?