European connection inspires sure-footed progress for Uruguay
Uruguay 2 South Korea 1
European representation in the World Cup quarter-finals has been reduced to the slimmest for decades , and it is the continent's own fault. Both victors vanquished in this second-round tie agreed that playing in Europe is the key to the success of the countries from elsewhere in the world. By opening its borders, and wallets, to the globe Europe has enabled other regions to catch up, and in some cases surpass it.
Uruguay had 10 European-based players in their starting XI, including Ajax's Luis Suarez who scored both goals. South Korea had five. That, indicated both sides, made the difference.
"My team are playing high-level football abroad and are capitalising on their experience," said Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguayan coach who himself previously coached Milan.
The South Korean coach, Huh Jung-moo, admitted the opposite was true of too many of his team. "Our players are improving year on year, our game is getting better, but we have areas to improve on. It's very important for the players to learn more from international teams by playing in foreign leagues."
Park Ji-sung, of Manchester United, agreed. "For Korea to move on, more players have to come to Europe's big clubs. That is the way ahead for now. We have to have more from Asian players in Europe."
European experience makes players sharper, more tactically sophisticated, physically stronger and able to cope with high-pressure matches. Uruguay's tactical astuteness was a case in point.
They began with Diego Forlan behind twin strikers, then, after Suarez had taken advantage of Jung Sung-ryong's inexplicable decision to leave Forlan's eighth-minute cross, smoothly switched to a more defensive mode. Forlan and Cavani dropped deeper and Uruguay looked to hit their opponents on the break.
However, the Koreans have some experience of the big leagues, too. Park and Monaco's Park Chu-young caused problems for a defence that lost Diego Godin at half-time. The equaliser, a brave header from another exile, Bolton's Lee Chung-yong, was no surprise.
But Uruguay simply adapted again, switching back to attack. With 10 minutes left the pressure brought a corner. Suarez, whose ability to find space is reminiscent of Robbie Fowler in his heyday, dropped off, unmarked. When Forlan's corner eventually reached him he worked a yard, then curled a shot in off the far post.
The Koreans should have forced extra time. Their late chance did fall to a player with European experience, but Lee Dong-gook did not play many games at Middlesbrough. It was easy to see why as he shot weakly and Uruguay were able to scramble the ball away.
"We dominated the game in the second half, but didn't take our chances," bemoaned Park. "It's a great opportunity gone. We could see a path to the semi-finals." He added: "Uruguay are good, but I don't think they will win it. The Brazilians have impressed me most. They are the ones for me."
Forlan said: "I hear people saying we are outsiders. It doesn't bother us. In some ways it helps. But we know what we can do and we don't plan to stop here. Everyone wants to make it to the final.
"We know we're not a big country, but no matter who we meet now we know we are among the best eight teams in the world," Forlan added. "I don't know whether I'd say we expected to be there, but I'm not surprised either."
Tabarez, whose team now meet Ghana at Soccer City on Saturday, added, of his men: "They are very, very united. In the final 15 minutes we saw that unity, that harmony and solidarity. I think this is a very good weapon to take on any team."
Uruguay (4-2-3-1) Muslera; M Pereira, Lugano, Godin (Victorino, h-t), Fucile; Perez, Arevalo; Cavani, Forlan, A Pereira (Lodeiro, 74); Suarez (Fernandez, 83).
South Korea (4-2-3-1): Jung; Cha, Cho, Lee Jung-soo, Lee Young-pyo; Ki (Yeom, 84), Kim Jung-woo; Lee Chung-yong, Kim Jae-sung (Lee Dong-gook, 60), Park Ji-sung; Park Chu-young.
Referee W Stark (Germany).
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