the evolution continues

Darwin Nunez outshines Son but fluffs his lines in Uruguay's draw with Korea

The Liverpool star missed his side’s best chance in a 0-0 draw.

Uruguay 0 

South Korea 0

DARWIN IMPLIED A continuous trajectory of evolution but his Uruguayan namesake continues to peak and trough from one frenzied, thrilling minute to another. 

Uruguay’s goalless draw with South Korea at the Education City Stadium this afternoon distilled Darwin Nunez’ true nature: he missed his side’s best chance while at the same time being the only part of the attack worthy of an opponent’s anxiety.

He also outshone his opposite number, a mask-wearing Son Heungmin who was shackled by Uruguay’s wonderfully crafty, abrasive defence. 

Nunez lined up for the anthems alongside Luis Suarez: one a fraught character in Liverpool’s past, the other struggling to avoid being handed the same role at the club today. (An hour before kick-off, news broke that Julian Ward, the Sporting Director who signed off on Nunez’ transfer, is leaving the club at the end of the season.) 

spqatar-al-rayyan-2022-world-cup-group-h-uru-vs-kor Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

The difference between Suarez and Nunez is that between a screen and stage actor. Suarez is best enjoyed on television, the close-up shots giving full view to the magnificent contortions of this face, to his knitted brow and operatic wails. Only Suarez can make the wrong side of a 50/50 throw-in call look like a death in the family. 

Nunez, by contrast, is a man of the stage: when watching, you need to see the environment around him. Mainly because he does his best work when he’s bounding madly into it. He is less a box of tricks than a Mario Kart crate of them: you’re never quite sure what you will get from Nunez but it is likely to be chaotic. And not necessarily always to his own benefit. 

Seeing Suarez from distance, by contrast, no longer does him any favours as it betrays the extent to which he can no longer move. Here he shuffled cumbrously across the Korean back-line like an arthritic man, flinging his arms wide at team-mates who didn’t plug the gaps he was unable to. 

Suarez was picked less as a striker than a kind of template for Nunez, given his deft movement and ruthless efficiency in key moments is all that Nunez needs to add to his game to make his transfer fee look cheap. Suarez here could teach the first but not the second. 

Nunez was picked of the left of a front three but he drifted in-field to join Suarez as a central striker when Uruguay cycled through possession, with Suarez constantly beckoning him in-field. Their attacking tactic almost worked in the opening half, when defender José María Giménez raked a cross-field pass to Facundo Pellistri, whose whipped ball to the six-yard box hurtled to Nunez, who met it with a swing and a thwwwiiiccckkk at fresh air. Suarez looked aghast. 

Suarez’ conducting didn’t always work, either. When he pulled Nunez in from the left and then chased a ball over the top of the Korean defence, Suarez took a light bump in the back and fell to ground. He needed the replay to realise Nunez had tracked an identical run and, given their obvious differences in pace, gently collided with him. 

Nunez was occasionally let down by those around him too. When Uruguay countered in the first-half he timed his run into the penalty area neatly, only to be undone by Mathias Oliveira’s overcooked pass. But for all of his clumsy enthusiasm, Nunez was Uruguay’s only reliable spark of attacking inspiration. South Korea’s best spell of the game came after half-time, when they finally hemmed Uruguay into their box, Gimenez making a fabulous challenge while lying on the ground to deny Son.

spqatar-al-rayyan-2022-world-cup-group-h-uru-vs-kor Son, wearing a protective mask after sustaining a facial injury before the World Cup. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

It took Nunez to frighten them back into a retreat, when he broke down the left wing and onto Diego Godin’s clearance on a counter attack. South Korea sent their best defender in Napoli’s Minjae Kim out to challenge him, but he couldn’t keep up when Nunez paused to flick into a higher gear, slipping and left splayed on the ground as Nunez drove to the endline.

Suarez pulled off to the far post but Nunez kept the ball at his feet and then tried to pull the ball across from the endline instead, the ball palmed away by goalkeeper Seunggu Kim before Pellistri arrived. 

Suarez warmly applauded and then trotted off the pitch, replaced by Edinson Cavani. Nunez had other moments, cutting in-field to fire wide of the post and then fluffing a late pass into the box to Fede Valverde, to which he reacted by howling in frustration at the night sky. 

A fan in the Uruguay crowed struck the same pose in the closing minutes, when Valverde rattled the post with what would have been a stunning winning goal from long-range. 

Son was somehow voted Man of the Match – Kevin De Bruyne said his baffling award last night might have been down to his name, so this may be a trend – and he set off for his own individual lap of appreciation in front of adoring fans having been held up by his broadcast interview.

Nunez left with his satisfied-looking team-mates. He has the materials to one day earn a similar renown, but for now they simply remain too raw.

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