Uruguay count on strong defence against Koreans
Uruguay v South Korea, Today, 3pm, ITV1, Port Elizabeth
Saturday 26 June 2010
For too long, Uruguay have been best known for the brutality of their defenders.
The infamous first-minute dismissal of José Batista for a violent assault on Scotland's Gordon Strachan in Mexico, in 1986, has taken a long time to live down – not least because the likes of former Juventus defender Paolo Montero did little to dispel the image.
Once, however, Uruguay was known for the quality of its football. They won the first World Cup with a short-passing game, in 1930, and did so again in 1950. With a population of four million, such successes have been hard to repeat, but they now feel they have a strong chance of reaching the last eight for the first time since 1970.
This time, the defenders are getting noticed for the right reasons. Uruguay are yet to concede in this World Cup, keeping clean sheets against France, South Africa and Mexico to win Group A.
Another would probably be enough to ease past a more porous South Korean team in Port Elizabeth this afternoon and into the quarter-finals where they would meet United States or Ghana.
The front two, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, still attract most of the publicity, but they are happy to share credit with the back four. "Defensively this team is great and so well settled," said Forlan. Suarez added: "We control games very well, mainly down to our amazing defence which is on great form. We feel very safe with them."
"Uruguay have been very good in their defence, but although we may have let other teams score goals, we have scored goals as well ," said South Korean coach Huh Jung-moo. "We are doing our best to work on scoring twice every time we lose a goal."
South Korea were semi-finalists themselves only eight years ago but that was at home, backed by fanatical fans, helped by some friendly refereeing, and with the benefit of months in a training camp under Guus Hiddink. This is the first time they have gone beyond the group stage outside of their own shores, but Park Ji-sung said he hopes they can go further and prove 2002 was not a fluke.
Looking back, the Manchester United midfielder said: "I don't think we made it to the semi-finals just because it was on home ground. We will do our best to prove that was not the case.
"I can't compare this team to then. That was the best team in our history. But this team is improving. At the end of the World Cup, we can compare and hopefully then we can say we are better."
"In 2006, we had some players playing in foreign leagues," he added, "but this time we have a lot of players who have either played in European leagues or are currently playing there. That has been a great help."
Huh accepted Uruguay were favourites but added: "There are possibilities open to everyone. Teams like Italy can lose, and unexpected teams can win."
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