Uruguay v South Korea
Diego Alonso begins his World Cup journey with a tricky match up against South Korea to begin Group H. The former Inter Miami coach has only been in charge for nine games and has won all four of his competitive games, conceding just once to Venezuela. Unlike his predecessor he prefers a 4-4-2 or occasionally a 4-2-3-1 as we saw in the final qualifier against Chile. The protagonist of the team is no longer Luis Suárez but Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde who alongside Tottenham’s Rodrigo Betancur is part of a high-pressing midfield unit.
Edinson Cavani is the national team’s top scorer in 2022 with five goals, but he is expected to be on the bench with Darwin Núñez and Luis Suárez starting together. Núñez has shown good game intelligence under Alonso, often drifting left to open up spaces for Valverde and Betancur to arrive late. Suárez remains the focal point having scored the most goals, attempted the most shots and had the most touches in the opposition box for Uruguay during the qualifying campaign.
South Korea are coming into the tournament with some good performances from friendlies and also reaching the final of the East Asian cup (where they got beat). With the recent injury of Son Heung-Min, South Korea will be weakened although he will play but we are unsure in what capacity. Paulo Bento has selected a diverse squad of players that cover many roles and I believe he will show what his team are capable of in this first game against giants Uruguay.
Many Sources are predicting Bento will change up the lineup to a 4-4-2 with Hwang Hee-Chan and Son Heung-Min leading the charge. A player to watch is Hwang In-Beom. He has had a really good start to the season at Olympiacos where he links up with his teammate Hwang Ui-Jo. If these two players are played together then it could be dangerous for the opposition defence.
South Korea’s main aim is to control possession throughout the game and push for chances where possible. As a team that plays through the middle, opportunities from corners come very sporadically but when acquired the threat is there from Napoli star Kim Min-Jae. Looking at recent results and the team South Korea have produced against a formidable opponent in Uruguay, I think they will try to control possession and deny Uruguay any opportunity possible. I think there will be goals on both sides, but not many.
Kim Min-Jae is a player that likes to dictate the game from very early on. During his 14 games at Napoli, he has averaged 74 passes per game with a success rate of 90%. As a team, South Korea controls possession to create their chances and Min-Jae will support the midfield in doing that. Also, with a high tackle success percentage (92% from 23/25), he will seek to support counter attacks which will add to his pass count. 50 may seem low for an average of 74 but against a team like Uruguay, especially as the underdogs, it is extremely reasonable.
Federico Valverde’s current form for Real Madrid will be of little surprise to followers of the Uruguayan National Team. In fact he hit the ground running as a teenager scoring on his debut against Paraguay in 2017. Under Diego Alonso he’s been used further forward and given license to attack, in the four World Cup Qualifiers under the new coach he attempted 12 shots with 5 on target. With South Korea likely to defend in a low block it should give Valverde space between the lines to pop a shot from distance. In the last round of CONMEBOL qualifiers only Lionel Messi (33) attempted more shots from outside the penalty area than Valverde (21). The 24-year-old midfielder is therefore a great shout for having a shot on target, especially coupled with his average of 1.2 per game in La Liga so far this season with Real Madrid.
Rodrigo Bentancur has emerged as a vital part of the Uruguay set up starting all 16 World Cup Qualifiers and giving the team the kind of balance that they need in midfield. The 25-year-old is used to build up play, he had the highest average passes per game in the Uruguay team during WCQs. But he is also a key ball winner, ranked 2nd in interceptions for the side. He averages over 50 passes per game for Conte’s Tottenham in the Premier League and holds the record for completed passes in a World Cup game with Uruguay having achieved 81 against Egypt in 2018.
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