Son Heung-min inspires South Korea to Asian Cup win over China
Tottenham forward plays a part in both goals in the 2-0 win in Abu Dhabi to ensure his side progress as Group C winners
Son Heung-min may be South Korea’s captain and star player, but manager Paulo Bento has revealed the decision to start the Tottenham Hotspur forward against China was only made on Tuesday night given his late arrival to the Asian Cup.
Bento was proved right in slotting Son straight into his team as the 26-year-old played a key role in South Korea’s 2-0 win over China at Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday to ensure his side progressed to the last-16 as Group C winners.
Son set up both goals: for the first he was fouled in the penalty area as Hwang Ui-jo converted from the spot after 14 minutes, before swinging in the corner for Kim Min-jae to head home six minutes into the second half.
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After topping the group, South Korea will next face one of the third-placed teams for a place in the quarter-finals – Group A’s Bahrain, Palestine from Group B, or Oman or Turkmenistan from Group F.
“Son is one of our best players in the squad,” Bento after the match. “He provides more options in attack and gives even more when we have some problems in that sector by assisting his teammates.
“He’s a player who can play in different positions and different ways. He brings a lot of influence to his teammates. And also he was in good condition to play this game. We took that decision to play him the night before the game.
“I must also say, to play for the national team and perform at the highest level is a wish every player has in this squad. That’s something they all have.
“We are very satisfied with that. What’s important now is to provide Son and the team to enjoy a bit after this performance and result, and then come back after tomorrow with the desire to play in the last 16.”
A place in the last-16 secured after winning all three matches, and with their captain back among the ranks, South Korea will be confident of a deep run at the Asian Cup. However, Bento has warned his players that the tournament is only going to get tougher.
“We still need to improve game after game, and our style of play,” the Portuguese said. “We achieved our objectives in each game. It is true we won all the games without conceding a goal and also not conceding many scoring opportunities to the opponents.
“The knockout stage will be different and every team can win. We need to be aware of that. We need to respect the other team and keep our focus on our game.”
China manager Marcello Lippi conceded his side were beaten by a better team and one of the favourites to win the Asian Cup. Despite defeat, China were already assured of progressing to the last-16, but now do so as group runners-up.
“To be honest the team we faced tonight was fast, strong and very good technically,” said the Italian.
“They were holding possession and controlled the game. They were faster than us, more aggressive than us, and they are used to playing with the same intensity. For us, it’s not the same.
“It was hard for us but we thought resting some of our players was a good move because we now have to prepare for another important game in the knockout.
“Korea started with all their best players and it was very hard. We know that and we have to accept it. They are one of the favourites to win the Asian Cup.
“About the mentality and approach of my team, I’m quite satisfied with the efforts they put up against Korea. We had three to four players rested but we must be honest an accept we were playing against a very good side.
“We have time to recover and play on Sunday [against Thailand]. Our objective of course was to finish on top of the group but we knew from the beginning that was a tough task to achieve.”
Updated: January 16, 2019 09:17 PM