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By Yoo Jee-ho
AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea held the favored Uruguay to a scoreless draw to kick off their FIFA World Cup campaign on Thursday, thanks to a combination of stingy defense and a bit of luck.
Uruguay, ranked 14th, struck the goal post twice in the teams' first Group H match at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha, as the sides each took a point from a tightly-contested match.
South Korea, world No. 28, first dodged a bullet when Diego Godin's header, set up by a Federico Valverde corner in the 43rd minute, struck the bottom of the left post and rolled away from the goal.
Then in the 89th, Valverde rang a hard shot off the left post to keep the match tied.
South Korea will be back at the same stadium at 4 p.m. Monday for their next Group H match against Ghana.
South Korean captain Son Heung-min, still recovering from facial fractures, got the start wearing his now-signature black protective mask.
South Korea had their best look in the 34th minute, with Hwang Ui-jo airmailing a shot on an open chance after Kim Moon-hwan's low cross found him alone near the penalty mark.
South Korea head coach Paulo Bento said the scoreless affair was "a competitive match with a high level of play" and said he was pleased with his team's effort.
"These were two teams that respected each other. We knew the quality of our opponents. This is an opponent that has players who are very evolved from a technical standpoint," Bento said. "I believe this was a very good match from our side. I believe we were better in the first half. We conceded very little. We should make an assessment of this match to learn from our mistakes and build on good action that we had."
South Korea have never beaten a South American team at the World Cup, with two draws and four losses.
Playing in their 10th consecutive World Cup and 11th overall, South Korea are pursuing their third trip to the knockouts, after progressing to the semifinals in 2002 and the round of 16 in 2010.
It wasn't until the 19th minute that the match saw its first shot attempt by either side, with Valverde's volley sailing over the net following a long pass from Jose Maria Gimenez.
After a scoreless first half, there were even fewer chances in the second half. Darwin Nunez had a decent look at the net in the 81st but missed the target to the right, a few minutes after South Korean substitute Cho Gue-sung also sent his shot wide right of the goal.
Son's left-footed shot from outside the box after a Uruguay turnover also went right in the 90th minute, and the seven minutes of additional time yielded nothing.
Uruguay had a 50-39 edge in ball possession and had 10 shots attempts to South Korea's six.