Just minutes ago Uruguay became the first team qualified to the World Cup Quarter Finals, notching a decisive 2-1 win over South Korea. It was not easy but the South Americans have been playing a brilliant tournament so far.
Uruguay came in as Group A winners (beat South Africa and Mexico, had a goalless draw with France) while South Korea had qualified as Group B runners-up (a win over Greece, a draw with Nigeria and a loss to mighty Argentina).
The South American side came in as favorites but, as we have seen so far, favoritism in this World Cup has had limited value so far. Fact of the matter is that both teams were playing good soccer and this match would be no exception, especially in the second half.
The most negative elements about this game were clearly the pouring rain and the lackluster state of the pitch itself (the grass).
Uruguay stormed into a very early lead as they opened the score with a 1-0 goal by Suarez, the young Ajax striker. Let us bear in mind that the first clear chance to score actually came from Park Chu-Young’s shot to the right post. Had they scored there the rest of the game would have undoubtedly been different.
The rest of the first half was close throughout.
The South Koreans came out of the locker rooms, for the second half, clearly motivated and decided to turn the tide around. The second half belonged, for the most part, for the Asian side. They had a host of scoring chances but could take advantage of them.
Uruguay looked defensive in this second half, trying to defend the thin 1-0 advantage. This defensive mindset is something we hadn’t seen yet from Uruguay in this World Cup and, to a wider extent, something we haven’t seen from most South American sides.
In the 68th minute the South Koreans were able to get the equalizer. What seemed to be a harmless cross into the box, (badly) relieved by the defense, turned out to be a decisive header by Lee Chung-Young. The South American goalkeeper, Muslera, has to be criticized for the way he left the posts trying to reach the ball; firstly because Chung-Young already had a defenseman marking him and secondly because a keeper cannot leave the posts like that if he is indeed unable to catch or punch the ball into safety.
This equalizer set the recipe for a furious final twenty minutes, with both teams eagerly going after the goal that would eventually secure them a Quarter-finals berth. Uruguay shifted gears again, changing to a more offensive and direct game. Suárez caught the ball on the outside corner of the South Korean area, found a little space to shake off the marking defenseman and proceeded to deliver one of the tournament’s finest goals so far, a beautiful right foot arcing shot which gently struck the left post on its way in. The entire Uruguay team started to celebrate together, including the bench players.
As the goal came in the 80th minute South Korea still had time to try and recover. They would have another good chance, but Lee Dong-Gook’s low shot from inside the box lacked the necessary power.
So there we have it. With Uruguay playing a more cerebral game than what they had done so far, with Suárez looking great and mainly by making the few chances to score effectively count, the South American side is now waiting for the winner between Ghana and the USA. That Quarter-finals match will take place in Johannesburg on the 2nd of July.
As for South Korea, they had a great tournament and probably overdid their initial expectations. They have nothing to be ashamed about.