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Son Heung-min: South Korea’s greatest football export still leading the way despite injury concern

Son Heung-min suffered a left-eye fracture that left him in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup  (Getty Images)
Son Heung-min suffered a left-eye fracture that left him in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup (Getty Images)

Son Heung-min’s early-season goal drought saw questions being raised about the pre-World Cup form of South Korea’s Tottenham Hotspur forward, who is fit and firing following a facial fracture.

Son, South Korea’s attacking talisman, has undergone surgery to stabilise a fracture around his left eye that he suffered playing for Tottenham against Olympique de Marseille, that had led to his participation at the World Cup being in doubt.

Yet for months it was his finishing that had fans worried.

After finishing as the Premier League’s joint-top scorer last season, the 30-year-old went eight games in all competitions without a goal to prompt concerns that his golden touch was deserting him with time ticking down to kick-off in Qatar.

Despite the growing unease within the South Korean fan base that the sheen might be dimming around the striker at the most inopportune time, national team boss Paulo Bento was unconcerned.

“I feel the same and I think the same as when he’s scoring a lot,” said Bento when he unveiled his squad for South Korea’s final two home friendlies before the World Cup. “There’s no concern, I will not talk with him about this.”

No sooner had those words left Bento’s lips than Son was back on the goal trail.

A hat-trick against Leicester City in the final round of Premier League matches before the international break was swiftly followed by two goals in two games for South Korea against Costa Rica and Cameroon.

Those goals underlined, yet again, Son’s importance to the national team and his development into one of the most potent attackers in the global game.

It has not always been the case during Bento’s time in charge, with Son struggling to replicate his club form while playing for his country.

In the past, the ex-Bayer Leverkusen man was the focal point for opposing defences, but with the Koreans now boasting an attack that spreads the threat across Hwang Hee-chan and Hwang Ui-jo, Son is better able to flourish for the Taeguk Warriors.

Son has turned into one of the best finishers in world football (Getty Images)
Son has turned into one of the best finishers in world football (Getty Images)

Son’s devastating pace and precision finishing saw him score 23 times in the Premier League last year, the same total as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, with the Tottenham forward amassing that amount despite not scoring from the penalty spot.

He has only grown in stature since leading the Koreans at the last World Cup in Russia, where they narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout rounds.

Son played as an over-age player in the side that won gold at the Asian Games for South Korea in 2018, earning the forward an exemption from compulsory military service.

That granted Son the opportunity to prove himself one of Asian football’s greatest exports and his goals will be crucial to Korea’s hopes of advancing to the knockout rounds in Qatar.