Uruguay will enjoy their first World Cup quarter-final appearance for 40 years after defeating South Korea 2-1 on a wet early evening in Port Elizabeth.
Having survived a fright in the opening five minutes when the Taegeuk Warriors hit the post, the Celeste moved into the ascendancy through Luis Suarez. After opening the scoring, Uruguay dropped deeper and invited pressure. Ultimately the South Koreans found a deserved equaliser via a scrappy goal from Lee Chung-Yong but a stunner from Suarez with 80 minutes on the clock proved decisive.
Both sides started the game brightly, looking to push forward when in possession of the ball. It was the South Koreans who were a little more adept in the early stages of the game and after only five minutes, they came within six inches from taking the lead. Hovering over a free kick on the left side of the box, Park Chu-Young delivered a fine shot up and over the wall only to watch the ball rebound off the post and away from danger.
Diego Forlan quickly replied with a relatively tame effort that was direct straight at Jung Sung-Ryong, though the Atletico Madrid striker would moments later have a significant hand in the opening goal.
Having hared onto a clever cross-field pass from the active Edinson Cavani, Forlan created space to roll a low cross across the face of the six yard box. Almost in slow motion, the defence and goalkeeper left the ball for each other, but Suarez wasn’t having any of the niceties, slamming unchecked into the net from an awkward angle at the back post.
Early defensive nerves on either side seemed to be dissipated by the opening goal, and though both sides passed the ball about in a largely cohesive manner, their play started to break down in the final third.
Suarez was denied a clear run on goal when Lee Jung-Soo coughed up possession as the last man and was lucky to see the assistant referee’s flag raised when the decision was marginal.
Park Chu-Young remained the main threat but his radar was marginally off when he tried his luck from 25 yards. His drive drifted by the post with Fernando Muslera scrambling a little.
South Korea were largely on the front foot, but they didn’t have the guile to break down the South Americans, with the decision making of Lee Chung-Yong especially questionable. Cha Du-Ri had a speculative effort as he advanced from his right-back position, but his strike dipped viciously over the bar.
On the break Uruguay looked a threat, though they were employing a rather sedate tempo to much of their play. Suarez nodded a Forlan free kick into the arms of Jung Sung-Ryong when he probably should have been a little more forceful as he had escaped all hints of marking. Great play from Maxi Pereira might have resulted in his penalty as his shot after a great piece of skill seemed to be blocked inadvertently by the arms of Ki Sung-Yong.
After the interval the flow of the game became more obvious towards the Uruguayan goal. The full-backs became increasingly involved in an attacking capacity, with a cross from Lee Young-Pyon smuggled behind at the near post by Diego Lugano after a clear Park Chu-Young dummy.
The Monaco striker had an opportunity to strike at goal himself around five minutes later as a ball bounced invitingly for the forward inside the box. Faced with a difficult angle, he elected to go for power, blasting the well over the top.
Fernando Muslera finally had a shot to save just before the half hour mark. Cha Du-Ri delivered well from the right but Park Ji-Sung’s header lacked the venom to test the goalkeeper, despite being sent towards the corner of the net.
When offered his first serious test, Muslera wasn’t up to scratch. A free kick into the box from the left was only half headed clear by Mauricio Victorino. The custodian crucially dallied under the high ball, allowing Lee Chung-Yong a rather routine equalising header from six yards.
The Bolton Wanderers player wasted a great chance to make it 2-1 only moments later. Park Ji-Sung released a deft reverse pass to the 21-year-old, who shot straight at Muslera.
Uruguay now decided to show more attacking intent and twice in quick succession Suarez broke the offside trap. On the first occasion he was denied by the South Korean goalkeeper after trying his luck from a tight angle, but on the second occasion he elected to have a header straight at goal when he easily had time to control on his chest deep inside the box.
With ten minutes remaining, the Ajax forward scored a stunning goal to push the Celeste to the verge of the quarter-finals. A corner from Forlan looked too long, but the Asians failed to clear properly and the ball broke to Suarez, who cut inside and from the left hand corner of the box bent a sumptuous shot into the far corner of the net.
It was a goal fit to win any game, but Uruguay had to survive a major late scare when Lee Dong-Gook was released. The striker had a clean sight of goal but scuffed his shot, allowing Muslera to get enough on the ball to prevent it crossing the line before the defence cleared up.
Uruguay’s defensive approach might have been punished on another day, but Oscar Tabarez’s side will take their place in the last eight at the expense of a somewhat under-rated Korean unit. The Celeste will face either the USA or Ghana and will believe a berth in the semi-finals is a real possibility.
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