Uruguay has some of the biggest names in world football, but South Korea has Son Heung-min.
Who: Uruguay vs. South Korea, Group H
Where: Education City Stadium
When: Thursday, November 24 at 4:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. GMT)
FIFA Ranking: Uruguay (14), South Korea (28)
The opening game in Group H could be the one that solves a question that worries many: who will advance from the group with Portugal to the last 16?
The fourth team in the group, Ghana’s Black Stars, are ranked 61st in the world and are unfavored to make it through the first round. And barring a natural disaster, Cristiano Ronaldo will steer his Portuguese side to the knockout stage in what will be his fifth and likely final attempt to win the World Cup.
This means that the remaining place should be decided in just over 90 minutes on Thursday.
This game could depend on Edinson Cavani. The slim Valencia striker, formerly of Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain, is one of the best forwards of his generation, scoring more than 200 club goals and 58 in a Uruguay shirt.
And Cavani will be joined on the Uruguay front by Luis Suarez, who is always hungry for a slice of glory – when he’s not attacking opponents. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez will also be in contention for a place in coach Diego Alonso’s preferred two-forward formation.
Most of the Uruguay national team plays outside the country: 12 play in top European leagues. Nacional team-mate Suarez, defender Jose Luis Rodriguez and goalkeeper Sergio Rochet are the only players in Uruguay’s 26-man squad to play in Uruguay.
In contrast, 13 South Korean players play in their country. The question is: does the individual’s experience in top-flight European football count for more than the cohesiveness achieved through a national-league-focused squad?
Son Heung-min of South Korea and Tottenham, on the other hand, is a man you can rely on when he delivers in big games for his country. Exceptions from military service are offered to South Korean athletes who win gold at the Asian Games. Son led his team into the 2018 final under pressure, providing both spot-on assists in South Korea’s 2-1 win over Japan.
Nine from the Asian Games 2018 squad have joined captain Son in Qatar, including Olympiacos teammates Hwang In-beom and Hwang Ui-jo. This is a team whose ties extend beyond every pitch.
For Uruguay, any result other than victory would be a disappointment. But South Korea, which knocked out defending champions Germany from the 2010 World Cup, showed they could cause a stir. And a team from Asia has already stunned a South American giant at this World Cup. Is there a repeat on Thursday?