Korea 2:1 Uruguay / Historic 1st Win over South American powerhouse

Stunning, that’s one of many ways to described a symbolically important victory over Uruguay, a perennial South American footballing powerhouse. Today’s 2:1 result gives Paulo Bento’s side more confidence that the team is trending in a positive direction after failing to advance past group stage in last summer’s World Cup. But that positive narrative is bolstered also by the U23 Asian Games vital gold medal win that gave Son Heung-min and company that desperately needed military exemption to continue with their careers.  After miraculously dispatching Germany in the last game of the World Cup, those that attended the sold out Seoul World Cup Stadium and a national TV audience witnessed another historic first, grinding out a 2:1 win that broke the hex – that is the general inability to get good results over major CONEBOL opposition.

We’re short on time, let’s get to the game quickly:

Bento lined up a starting XI nearly identical to the scrimmage team 1 from midweek, though he opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation.


Uruguay was without Luis Suarez (expecting a new child) but still had a very A looking squad:



The first half was marked by a reversal of the usual script. Against major footballing powers, Korea usually starts meekly, penned in their own half  (sound of record player scratching) – rather it was Korea who was on the front foot, enjoying long spells of possession to start things off. Unfortunately, as a center forward, Hwang Ui-jo wasn’t able to get on the ends of balls directed his way, and otherwise missed other chances that fell his way. Son launched some pernicious corner kicks (a foreshadowing of things to come), but no Koreans were able to take advantage of those balls skipping near the goal line.  Halftime and no advantage to either squad.

Things got far more interesting after the restart, Korea’s offense looked fluid and it was only a matter of time before a beautiful buildup received it’s just reward.

A lovely interchange between Hwang Hee-Chan, followed by Captain Son’s cheeky backheel to Nam Tae-Hee, the talented Al Duhail midfielder spotted both Son and Hwang Ui-Jo making runs into the area. He quickly opted for Hwang and he was hauled down. A moment later, the referee signaled a penalty despite loud appeals of the visitors.

Captain Son took the penalty but it was easily saved by Fernando Muslera who dove to his right. Fortunately for Hwang Ui-Jo, he was there to sweep in the rebound.


Korea would not have long to celebrate as Kim Young-Gwon slipped on the less than stellar pitch, allowing Lucas Torreira to race onto the entrance of the net. Kim Seung-Gyu came off his line to close the gap, but Matias Vecino was wide open to simply receive Torreiria’s pass and ease it on into the net.


Just as it would seem a victory would slip out of hand, Korea kept up the attack.  On the 79th minute, it would be another dangerous corner kick from Son Heung-Min, Suk Hyun-Jun – who subbed in for Hwang Ui-Jo, connected with the ball and headed it down toward Edison Cavani’s feet; it bounced away and leaked out toward Jung Woo-Young near the far post. He did not miss the chance and comes away the unlikely hero (I can’t remember the last time he scored for Korea. The Tavern Stats man reports that the Al Sadd defensive midfielder scored only one other senior goal – sort of. It was during Korea’s 1:4 beatdown of Japan (in Tokyo I think) for the E1 tournament final match – a tournament that didn’t feature any European based players since it fell on a non FIFA international break timeframe.


Korea saw the game out and when the full time whistle blew, cue enthusiastic celebrations from the Seoul crowd.



Son Heung-min had a mixed performance but otherwise solid as a captain and leader for the team.  He didn’t make himself the center of the attack, played deeper than usual, wasn’t as successful with his take-ons, but did well to move the ball around and direct the attack. Tack this in the negative column: his penalty taking abilities has waned, particularly in his last 2 times for the KNT.  In the Costa Rica match, he hit the post -only for the ball to fall kindly to Lee Jae-Sung. Today the diving save rebounded to Hwang Ui-Jo. Uncannily, despite the misses, his sidemen were able to capitalize. He announced post match that he’s no longer taking PKs for the KNT.  Despite that puzzlement, Son was instrumental in creating the opportunities, the quick thinking backheel to Nam right before Ui-jo was hauled down in the area & the corner kicks delivered was whipped in so well, Uruguay had difficulty defending those set pieces. Also: Korea under Captain Sonny has been quite decent, a win against Germany, Costa Rica, draw with Chile and a win against Uruguay – a nice unbeaten streak that’s making quite the statement.

Hwang Ui-Jo was another player that had a mixed performance, yet the narrative being spun is that he’s this talismanic forward that’s unstoppable. The reality is a little bit harsher. His first half performance was less than stellar and his could be called into account for being wasteful and ineffective. He did well on two occasions in the 2nd half: one for earning the penalty and the other for saving Son’s bacon by sweeping in his rebound. After that he was subbed out for Suk Hyun-Jun.  Bento has some thinking to do as another stat is pertinent here: this breaks a very long goal drought for Ui-Jo, last having scored in October…2015. That’s almost exactly 3 years ago. Today marks only his 2nd goal in 14 caps. Sure Hwang did well in the Asian Games. Believe it or not, the jury is still out on whether he is the best center forward option for Korea.

The fullbacks Hong Chul and Lee Yong did not impress, they lost the ball frequently and looked generally sloppier than usual. Despite that, Korea managed to get a good team victory. Many were waiting for Jang Hyun-Su to put a bad foot forward – somehow he didn’t and while unspectacular, didn’t make any major glaring mistake. That would go to Kim Young-Gwon, the goal conceded would squarely fall on him – though to be fair, on replays it looked like the turf completely gave way underneath him – with a turf clod coming loose that made him lose his footing.

Paulo Bento: whoops gots to go and get kids – but he has to get credit – he’s brought in technical efficiency with this squad and getting the most out of these sets of players.  Wasn’t a perfect team nor individual effort on display here, but enough to get a first win against Uruguay? That’s an accomplishment.












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  1. Thanks for the recap. I really needed someone to distill this cause I first did a double take when i saw the scoreline this morning cause I was in transit during the game. My first thought was maybe a weak Uruguayan line up (which it wasn’t) or a super defensive showing (which according to the stats we didn’t). Im starting to get cautiously optimistic.

    • Ehhhhh Suarez didn’t play. Remember, this is the guy who single-handedly BURIED us in 2010. One of the best players for Barcelona. He didn’t play! If we had played Uruguay in Uruguay without Son Heung Min, I doubt Uruguayan fans would be celebrating.

      Yes Uruguay has strong players apart from Suarez, but Uruguay was absolutely lethal at the World Cup this past summer for having the two-headed dragon attack (Suarez AND Cavani). However, when Cavani went down injured and they only had Suarez, they were terrible against France. In 2014, when Suarez went out for his biting episode and they only had Cavani, they were terrible against Colombia.

      It was a pretty good performance by Korea, but again… jet-lagged Uruguay without Suarez is not going to convince me yet. I am **cautiously** optimistic, but I will be more optimistic when we do well on foreign soil against a truly WC caliber team.

      • While I think your consistency on not getting your hopes up is very admirable, your standards for getting your hopes up are a bit unrealistic imo.

        Other than the World Cup or the Confed Cup, Korea is not going to play a WC caliber side that is not jetlagged. Jetlag is just going to be a part of the equation for one side in a friendly, no matter who Korea plays. If Korea invites a WC caliber nation to play them at home, that team is jetlagged. If Korea travels to foreign soil to play a WC caliber nation, then they are jetlagged. So really the friendly system will never be the way for you to truly believe that Korea is good. Do you consider the Asian Cup coming up World Cup caliber? That is probably the closest you will get to judging Korea based on what you’re outlining.

        • Your last sentence is exactly right 🙂
          We have been pretty bad for about 8 years. Our 2018 World Cup campaign was basically disastrous for a team that qualified. I don’t believe we can suddenly be great in 3 months. It takes time. We are not Brazil or Italy with a historically and consistently great team that can bounce back from a downturn.
          So yeah, right now I’m not confident in our team. However, if we perform well at the Asian Cup, I will be more likely to say we are looking good (notice I didn’t even say we have to win, just if we have a respectful showing- we got second place last time, and a couple years later we sacked our manager. I think we actually were lucky to get second, since our knockout stage path was VERY easy- playing Uzbekistan and Iraq are not challenging. If we beat Iran or Japan in 2019 and then lose to Australia, I will be incredibly proud of our team).

      • To add onto my last point, I still consider this a building phase. We are building, and I believe we are building in the right way, however I will not get excited until we do something truly noteworthy. I have overreacted to friendlies in the past and then we crashed out of the WC group stages in 2014 and 2018.
        I’m giving Bento a golf clap so far

      • SK will get that scenario in November, under many of the conditions you described: Playing away games w/out their star, Son, against 2 tough WC-caliber teams (Aus, Uzbek); yeah they’re not world-beating, but still a test (also not so much jetlag b/w SK & Aus.)

        I’d like to see how Bento adjusts, cuz it seems he’s relied on Son pretty heavily, to the pt of over-use/reliance imo. Has he been subbed out even once under Bento yet? It feels like Son has been made to play every stinking minute, not one breather.

        • Yep Yep Yep! Agree with everything. Australia unfortunately kinda sucks these days, but still that game will probably be more of a sign as to how we’re doing.

      • Guess what Jon? When Korea beat Germany they were still feeling the effects of jet lag. No one gives a crap about jet lag in futbol.

      • Suarez killing Korea? Ok, maybe, but that was like, a long time ago buddy, we’re talking about now. Hey, Korea was without Kwon Chang Hoon, the Uruguay killa!

        • Yeah, but… Suarez is one of the deadliest attackers in the world NOW. And he is even better now than he was in 2010 when he was with Ajax. How many goals has he had in the Champions League and La Liga since he was in the Dutch league? Is it bad to want a little revenge? No more Jung Sung Ryeong, no problem…

          I wish Kwon could be our Uruguay killa. I’ll settle for Jung Woo Young 🙂

          • Ehhh I would say that Suarez peaked around the 15/16 season, he’s lost a bit of pace and that lethal touch that he used to have. Not to say that he isn’t a top attacker even now, but i’d say he’s definitely fallen in the top 10 ranks as far as goalscoring is concerned. His playmaking abilities however are infinitely better now than before as can be seen from his space making runs and no-touch assists

      • Even without Suarez, Uruguay on paper is superior over KNT in nearly every position. Not to mention, compared to previous teams, Uruguay came to play… perhaps spurred by a good crowd & their urge to put in a good show. It was entertaining game.. nonetheless. Pace/tempo of the game was good.. even when you factor in “jetlag” by both teams. You have to remember, majority of the players traveled from Europe.. of which, it is true for Korean players as well (and to those who joined from ME.. as they have a bit of jetlag to deal with as well).

        Of course, at the end of the day.. this is only a friendly at the start of a new cycle. Will have a better idea in a yr or two, especially when Korea under Bento go through rough period/transition (as they undoubtedly will).

  2. As long as Hwang Ui-Jo continues to end up being in the right place at the right time, he’ll have a spot on this team come World Cup time.

    • This forward they call, Hwang Ui-Jo, how many goals does he have wearing the national uniform this year, maybe even the last 3 months? Can you count them? Maybe it’s more than everyone else combined! Give credit where credit is due.

  3. Why does Son take the corner kicks? Surely there are others who can place it the box. Son has a nose for goal, I would rather him be in the mix.

      • There are no “aerial threats” on KNT. Maybe Wookie was. Son scores goals, that’s what he does for Tottenham, IMO, I think he should be out their in the box rather than taking corner kicks, unless there’s some reason we don’t know.

        • I disagree. Uruguay’s Caceres really struggled to deal with Suk HJ who headered the ball into Cavani that lead to the game winning goal for KNT. Suk is around 6’4! In the PL, Son often doesn’t position himself in the box during corners for Spurs despite not being the corner taker. He seems to lack strength and the willingness to be physical that’s needed to be on the receiving end of set pieces.

          • You may be right, although if the ball finds its way on the ground, Son has the ability to tap it in with either foot for a quick strike.

  4. I wondered a while back if Uruguay might be SK’s 1st test of adversity (read: loss) under Bento, and how would they cope. Not today, character building loss, not today (what’s Bento putting into the water haha).

    I’m curious to see how Japan fares against Uruguay in a few days (they beat Panama 3-0, SK’s next opponent)

    • P.S. Lee Jae Sung as forward? I thought he was a nifty midfielder w/ the occasional goal but not really known for it; is Bento just trying something new?

      • I don’t think the position label really matters. He’s really versatile and can play in almost any midfield/wing/forward position.

        • Hey you’re right, long as he puts the ball in the back of that net, I don’t care if he’s called buttercup lol.

          I’m not overly familiar w/ him, only that he’s very technically gifted; if he also has a natural nose for goal, and Bento’s seen enough evidence of it to make him a FW, I’m all for it.

          • Maybe it just means Bento thinks of Lee JS as a player who just plays in wide positions rather than somewhere centrally. Bento might have not seen him yet play as a number ten or deeper midfield roles for Jeonbuk in the past.

  5. Any idea as to why Kim Min Jae isn’t starting with Kim Young Kwon? Would like to see some time with those 2 on the field. Also, waiting to see Lee Seung Woo play some more minutes with the Senior Team.

    • In an interview, Bento mentioned that he was surprised by often KNT changed their squad and lineups. I think he intentionally picked the world cup squad with a couple changes because he wants consistency. He probably wanted Kim YG and Jang HS to continue to build good chemistry. Also, he might have started Jang in order to give him a boost of confidence after his big mistake against Chile. So far, I think Bento has said all the right things and made really good decisions. Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come.

  6. Moon Seon Min should never be picked again, hes not at the same caliber level as his teammates and one more thing, i would like to see Jeong Seung Hyun playing CB against Panama as hes untested.

    • Yeah, I definitely agree on Moon Seon-min. He plays well in the K League but every single international match he plays in he looks out of his depth. Hopefully Bento takes a look at some other K League attacking talent, because there are certainly better options than Moon in the K League atm. In terms of the Panama lineup, we know this is a weaker opponent so I say that Bento should go super young and try to give some younger, untested players some experience.

  7. I love how results from friendlies are both minimized and exaggerated depending on people’s outlooks. Let’s not forget that the US tied France during the World Cup warm-ups. The players don’t go full speed on either side. I think friendlies are more a showcase for the managers and the players on the fringes of making the squad. With that said, Bento did a GREAT job. Maybe I’m still in the honeymoon stage with Bento but I can’t wait for the next match! Even if we lost I think Bento did an incredible job this match. The result came in our favor and you hope for that, but it’s soccer (er football) so the results don’t always tell the entire story.

    I HAVE to say something about Son missing the penalty…He must have glitter running through his veins during these moments. No questioning that he’s one of the best yet (if not THE best ever) in a Korean kit, but that boy is softer than Charmin toilet paper. His legs must become softer than baby thighs when he is asked to kick a penalty. I’m not sure if I would trust a guy from Big Bang or Son more to stand tall during that moment. SMH. You’ll get them next time, Son.

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