S. Korea captain Son Heung-min vows to be more assertive
SEOUL-- Selfishness can be a good thing in football, and Son Heung-min, captain of the South Korean men's national team, is determined to be just that in future matches.
With Son deferring to his teammates and not being his aggressive self, South Korea settled for a scoreless draw against underdogs Iraq in their World Cup qualifying match last Thursday.
Son, one of the top scorers in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur in recent years, has long been more of a facilitator when playing for South Korea. He has often spoken about feeling responsible for setting up his teammates and giving them a chance to shine.
Against Iraq, though, Son might have gone too far in that direction. Speaking at an online press conference on Sunday, two days before South Korea's next World Cup qualifier versus Lebanon, Son vowed to change his approach.
"I understand the criticism that I didn't take enough shots (against Iraq), and I have to address that," Son said. "I love shooting the ball, and I have confidence in that part of the game. I'll try to be more selfish in that regard. Sometimes, things don't quite go the way I want them to, but I'll continue to work on it."
In the Iraq match, Son was man-marked by Sherko Kareem, a natural forward who got the start on defense instead, with the sole assignment of keeping the South Korean star in check. The gambit worked to near perfection for Iraq. In the few moments when Son freed himself from Kareem, he was met by two or three other help defenders.
"It's not as if I was intent on not shooting the ball. I just didn't have that many opportunities," Son said. "People may have a different perspective away from the field. There were times when I thought my shot would be blocked by the defense and I'd be better off passing the ball to a teammate. I didn't want to take meaningless shots in those instances and tried to find guys in a better position."
Iraq, ranked 34 spots below South Korea at No. 70, seemed perfectly content with taking the draw in the away match. They played a dogged and gritty defense to limit South Korea to just a couple of dangerous scoring chances and did an effective job blocking off passing lanes in late moments of the match.
With South Korea expected to run into a similarly tight defense against the 98th-ranked Lebanon, Son said he and his teammates have to pay attention to small details.
"We have to do a better job exploiting small space and recognizing such space when we get it," Son said. "We have to make quicker and stronger passes."
Son, who has been playing Premier League matches in front of raucous fans, said it was "such a shame" that the national team won't have any supporters to open their final World Cup qualifying stage.
Under the current COVID-19 regulations, no spectators are allowed for sports games taking place in the greater Seoul area. Seoul World Cup Stadium, which normally sits nearly 65,000, was empty for Thursday's match against Iraq. The Lebanon match will be played behind closed doors at 43,000-seat Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, about 45 kilometers south of Seoul.
"I often wonder if football can even exist without fans," Son said. "It was hard to work up any energy in an empty stadium. I miss sharing exciting moments with our fans."
Source: Yonhap News Agency