South Korea started its game against Uruguay at a lively pace, but after 15 minutes neither team had really threatened a goal.
Uruguay, a country with a population of just three and a half million, consistently punches far above its weight at the World Cup, making the semifinals in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2018.
Uruguay’s name to know remain 35-year-old Luis Suarez — El Pistolero — still best known for biting three different opponents, including once at the World Cup in 2014, and a strategic handball that led to a win over Ghana in 2010. Another 35-year-old, the superstriker Edinson Cavani — El Matador — starts on the bench.But those veterans have been equaled, if not surpassed by another forward, Darwin Nunez, 23, who knocks in his club goals for Liverpool.
Uruguay is favored over South Korea, which is led by the Spurs superstar Son Heung-min, who will have to carry the team of lesser lights on his shoulders. Son will play with a black mask to protect a fracture near his left eye.South Korea is appearing at its 10th straight World Cup. It had a miracle run to the semifinals when playing at home in 2002, but otherwise has just one round of 16 appearance to show for it.
Breel Embolo (48’)
Switzerland opened its World Cup campaign with a 1-0 victory against Cameroon on Thursday, a result delivered by a goal from a player whose life story reflects the growing complexity of defining nationality and identity in an increasingly interconnected, transplanted world. The goal arrived in the 48th minute, off a strike by Breel Embolo, a Swiss striker who was born in Cameroon. Embolo turned in a low cross from Xherdan Shaquiri.
Embolo, 25, plays for the French club Monaco. But he was born in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, and moved to Europe as a child, first to France and then to Switzerland. Embolo has now scored for Switzerland at consecutive major championships, having opened their goal account at last summer’s European Championship, too.
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Switzerland took control of the game in the second half: Ruben Vargas narrowly missed scoring on a feed identical to the one the produced Embolo’s goal in the 66th minute, and Embolo had a perfect chance for his second cleared off his toe a minute later.
Cameroon striker Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting had perhaps the best scoring opportunity of the first half in the 15th minute, slipping behind the Swiss defense and stopped only by a timely shove just as he released his shot. The play, though, was called back by offside.
Cameroon vs. Switzerland
How to watch: 5 a.m. Eastern. FS1, Telemundo, Peacock.
Cameroon takes great pride in being the most successful African team in World Cup history — thanks to eight appearances at the tournament, including one quarterfinal appearance — and expectations are high.
This week, the assistant manager, Sébastien Migné, was pushed on whether the team could win the World Cup. That’s unlikely, but overcoming Switzerland is not impossible.
Uruguay vs. South Korea
How to watch: 8 a.m. Eastern. FS1, Telemundo, Peacock.
“We respect South Korea,” Uruguay’s manager, Diego Alonso, said on Wednesday. “They have a lot of good players. It’s not just Son Heung-min.”
It does not always feel like that, admittedly, and if the Koreans are to overcome a Uruguayan team benefiting from the emergence of a promising young generation, they will need Son, Asia’s biggest star but now playing only weeks after sustaining a fractured eye socket, both fit and in form.
There has been a degree of hopefulness, in the last few days, in the desperate search for Brazil’s pressure point. Perhaps it’s the fullbacks: If Daniel Alves, his bubbling energy now finally starting to simmer at age 39, can get in the squad, the options cannot be outstanding.
Or maybe it’s the midfield: Perhaps Tite, the country’s coach, will be unable to resist the temptation to deploy his vast array of attacking talent, leaving Casemiro as the only overworked adult in the room. Or, at a pinch, it could be Neymar. Can Neymar be relied upon to deliver when it matters?
How to watch Brazil vs. Serbia: 2 p.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock.
It all feels just a little desperate. There is no guarantee that Brazil will win the World Cup, of course, not least because of the quality of some of its rivals. Argentina and now Germany might have stumbled, but France, England and, thanks to a faintly harrowing demolition of Costa Rica on Wednesday, Spain have all shown their hand. The field is taking shape.
In the weeks before the tournament, the assumption was that Brazil was at the head of it. Tite has at his disposal a “golden generation,” as his Serbian counterpart, Dragan Stojkovic, put it. Stojkovic, for those with long enough memories, knows a thing or two about golden generations. There is no obvious pressure point. This is the best team Brazil has sent to a finals since it won the tournament in 2002; it is, in fact, a substantially better team than the one that triumphed in Japan 20 years ago. It has seen the standard. Now it is time to match it.
Portugal vs. Ghana
How to watch: 11 a.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock.
Remarkably, Portugal — the European champion only six years ago, and a regular contender for major honors for much of the last two decades — is likely to open its campaign to win the World Cup with a team that includes a striker currently without a club.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a little-known 37-year-old from the island of Madeira, was recently released by his former employer and will be hoping good performances at the tournament can help him catch the eye of a new club.