World Cup: Son is fit for opener with Uruguay
DOHA – South Korean fans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday after coach Paulo Bento confirmed that Son Heung-min will be able to play in their World Cup opener against Uruguay on Thursday, despite his star player wearing a mask after facial surgery.
The Tottenham forward and South Korean skipper went under the knife earlier in November after suffering fractures around his left eye in a collision during a Champions League match.
Son, 30, has been training in Qatar wearing a black protective mask reminiscent of swashbuckling vigilante Zorro, and fans had been eagerly waiting on news of his availability.
“Son can play and will be able to play,” Bento said.
“The fact he will be wearing a mask is not inconvenient for him, it is natural for him.
“We have stuck to the plan since we arrived here, also the way we integrated him into our group shows he has been natural.
“We will see tomorrow how it will be. Our hope is that he will feel comfortable as far as possible. But he knows and we know that after this injury we cannot take any risks.”
Son is eager to play, wary of the possibility of further injuries from a premature return, last week saying he was “more than willing to bear those risks”.
Group H also includes Portugal and Ghana, meaning Son’s unrelenting threat and firepower against an uncertain Uruguayan defence will be vital for South Korea to pick up some crucial early points by negating Uruguay’s attacking flair.
The Uruguayans are once again the dark horses of the tournament, with a squad that combines a trusted old guard of players age 35 or above, with exciting young talent eager to make their mark in their first World Cup.
They includes Liverpool’s record signing Darwin Nunez, who is expected to be paired up front with the ageing Luis Suarez, a key component in Uruguay’s impressive march to the semi-finals in the 2010 World Cup.
Nunez at 23 is 12 years younger than Suarez and fellow forward Edinson Cavani, who play in their fourth World Cup, as does captain and most capped player Diego Godin.
Among 13 debutants will be Real Madrid’s versatile midfielder Federico Valverde and Manchester United’s Facundo Pellistri, who link up with Tottenham’s in-form Rodrigo Bentancur in a midfield for which Uruguay’s squad has plenty of depth.
Coach Diego Alonso sees the yawning age gap as a boon and believes Uruguay could even win this World Cup, as they did in 1930 and 1950.
“For me to have a good World Cup is to win the first match. Today I do not consider anything more than that,” he said.
“Uruguayan soccer players are the best in the world, it’s the biggest weapon. The sense of belonging they have is above any tactical or motivational approach.”
But commentators have noted frailties at the back that South Korea could exploit, particularly in the centre, while there is no word yet on whether Barcelona’s Ronald Araujo is available after undergoing thigh surgery.
Uruguay have reached 14 World Cups and South Korea 11, but neither have a good record in their opening match, with the Asian side losing or drawing in their last two World Cups and Uruguay unable to win their openers in six of their last seven editions. - REUTERS, AFP