In Focus: Sensational Son out to shock the Selecao
South Korea’s sensational last-gasp defeat of Portugal secured them a showdown with Brazil this evening.
Skipper and star man Heung-Min Son will lead his nation into battle against the tournament favourites with nothing to lose — especially given they were staring a group-stage exit in the face only four days ago.
If the Asians are to have a chance of stunning their illustrious opponents, the Tottenham forward will need to be at his breathtaking best.
We assess Son’s efforts at the World Cup so far and consider how he can inspire his nation to a historic triumph.
It was touch-and-go whether Son would play any active part at this year’s tournament after he sustained a horror injury less than three weeks before South Korea’s first game.
Playing for Spurs against Marseille in the Champions League on November 1, the 30-year-old was caught in the face by Chancel Mbemba and suffered a fracture to his left eye.
Emergency surgery was required to give him any chance of featuring and thankfully the procedure was a success — though Son has been forced to train and play in a protective mask since.
Speaking after the goalless opener with Uruguay, he explained: "It was a nightmare to be honest. I was doing everything to be here because it is a big honour for me to play for this amazing country and I did everything.
"After I got the injury, I called up some of my physios and said, 'Look, I don't care what is the option, I want to play the World Cup'. Then the surgery went really well and I'm grateful that Spurs did everything for me to be here."
Like his nation, it has taken Son a little time to grow into this World Cup.
Against Uruguay, he dragged his only shot of the contest harmlessly wide in the dying stages, while he was similarly unable to influence proceedings in the 3-2 defeat to Ghana.
He mustered only two tame strikes against the Black Stars, also failing with all three of his take-on attempts on a hugely frustrating evening that left his nation’s progression hopes hanging by a thread.
However, if there is one thing the Premier League 2021-22 Golden Boot winner has proven in recent years, it is his ability to produce when the chips are down.
Having been on the peripheries of the first two encounters, Son put in a masterclass when South Korea needed him most.
Port of call
After falling 1-0 behind early on, Paulo Bento’s side needed something special from their talisman.
Despite having just 42 touches on the night, everything the No7 attempted was done with a positive purpose, taking risks in order to carve out openings for his team-mates.
He put a match-high tally of four crosses into the opposition box and, even more impressively, boasted a 100% pass accuracy in the final third of the pitch.
It was in the dying seconds with his side needing to score where Son produced his trump card, however, with what will surely prove the assist of the tournament.
Picking up a cleared Portuguese corner 60 yards from goal, he breezed over the halfway line at breakneck speed while being pursued by no fewer than five opposition defenders.
When reaching the edge of the box, he had no option but to slow up and await support — and what followed was the mark of a true genius.
Holding off three defenders, he somehow picked out the run of Hee-Chan Hwang among the crowd and played an impeccable ball through Diogo Dalot’s legs for the Wolves striker to drill home.
It sparked pandemonium in the stands and was the crowning moment of a South Korean legend.
Up against it
Son understandably shed tears of joy at full-time against Portugal, but it will take something extraordinary to prevent tears of sadness this evening.
Brazil are many observers’ favourites for glory in Qatar and, prior to heavily rotating against Cameroon, did not concede as much as a shot on target in their opening two outings.
If South Korea are to prevail against the odds, it will likely be a case of holding firm defensively, staying disciplined out of possession and taking what few chances come their way.
Just like against Portugal, Son’s touches are likely to be limited and the Selecao will surely have paid special attention to the Spurs star in their pre-match preparation.
Yet with this World Cup already producing a number of high-profile shocks, anyone overlooking Son and South Korea should do so at their peril.