Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min is the headline star of South Korea's squad for the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.
The Korea Football Association on Monday unveiled the men's national football team roster for the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games that includes Son as one of its "wild card" members. Son, who turned 26 on July 8, will make his first Asiad appearance.
The men's football competition at the Asian Games, which will be held from Aug. 14 to Sept. 1, is open to players born in or after January 1995, but a maximum of three players who are older than 23 can also be included on the official list of 20 players.
This photo taken on July 27, shows South Korea`s Son Heung-min celebrating after scoring a goal against Germany in a 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F match at Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia. (Yonhap)
The other two players who are over the age limit are goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who showed an impressive performance at the 2018 World Cup, and forward Hwang Ui-jo, who plays with Japanese side Gamba Osaka. Jo will turn 27 in September, while Hwang will be 26 in August.
South Korea's squad included four members who represented the country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Along with Son and Jo, Lee Seung-woo of Hellas Verona and Hwang Hee-chan of Red Bull Salzburg also made the roster for the Asian Games.
However, Paik Seung-ho of Girona FC and Lee Kang-in of Valencia, who were expected to be on the roster, didn't earn selections. South Korea's under-23 football coach, Kim Hak-bum, said he excluded Paik, a product of FC Barcelona youth system, because of injury, while Lee was dropped since the KFA couldn't get permission from Valencia for Lee's release.
Among the 20 members, six have played for the senior national team. Kim Min-jae, a center back who was dropped from the World Cup roster due to injury, will make his Asian Games debut.
The Asian Games is not on the FIFA calendar, and clubs are not obligated to release their players. Kim said five players who are with foreign clubs have earned their permission to compete at the Asian Games, but the KFA is currently negotiating with their clubs on the date for the players' release.
Son's selection was somewhat expected as Kim Hak-bum had been hinting at picking the former Bayer Leverkusen man.
Son scored two goals at the World Cup and lived up to hisreputation as South Korea's attacking ace, although his country failed to reach the round of 16 with one win and two losses. South Korea beat Germany 2-0, but fell to Sweden 1-0 and suffered a 2-1 defeat to Mexico.
For players like Son, the Asian Games is an important tournament because they can earn military service exemption by winning a gold medal.
All able-bodied South Korean males must serve roughly two years in the military. For athletes, however, winning an Asian Games gold medal or an Olympic medal of any color can reduce their time in the armed forces, as they'd then only have to do four weeks of basic training.
Son was not on the South Korean team that won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and a gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games.
To extend his impressive career in Europe without interruption, grabbing the gold at the 2018 Asian Games is considered the most important task for Son.
South Korea were originally paired with Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Bahrain in Group E, but the Asian Football Confederation recently said it will conduct a group stage draw again after it omitted the United Arab Emirates and Palestine in the previous draw. This will increase the number of participating nations in the men's football competition at the Asian Games from 24 to 26.
"I know people will have their own opinions on this squad, but we're one team, and we'll do everything to get a good result," Kim said. "I will take full responsibility for our performance. I just hope fans can give big support to us."
The KFA said South Korea's U-23 football squad will assemble on July 31 and will have a friendly match with Iraq at home before departing for Indonesia on Aug. 10. (Yonhap)