Mon, Sep 03, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Asian Games: Son thanks Spurs as gold spares him military duty

AFP, JAKARTA

South Korea’s Son Heung-min celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the Asian Games men’s soccer final in Bogor, Indonesia, yesterday.

Photo: AP

Son Heung-min is to rejoin his Tottenham Hotspur teammates next week buzzing after his emotional rollercoaster ride at the Asian Games in Jakarta.

The decision by Spurs to release Son for a far-flung, under-23 tournament already looks like a shrewd piece of business after he led South Korea to a gold medal that spares him a career-threatening stint of military service.

One of three permitted over-age players in the Korean squad, the 26-year-old forward recently signed a new five-year deal with the London club and was quick to thank Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino after a 2-1 extra-time win over Japan on Saturday.

“I’m so grateful to Tottenham because they let me come here,” Son told reporters, clutching his gold medal and grinning from ear to ear.

“Normally that’s not an easy decision. I would have felt very sorry if I didn’t win the gold medal,” he added, after escaping almost two years of compulsory military service.

“I really want to say thank you to the coach, the players and fans of Spurs. They are so special,” he added.

Son’s plight has captured the hearts of Spurs fans, who have taken to social media in the thousands to wish the player luck in Indonesia.

Nearly every able-bodied South Korean man is required to perform 21 months of military service before the age of 28, although the government rewards Asian Games gold medals and Olympic medals of any color with an exemption.

“I’m so grateful for all the support,” said Son, who missed at least three matches at the start of the Premier League season to play the Asian Games.

“It means a lot to me. Now I’m looking forward to getting back to England and showing what I can do. I’ll continue to work hard for Tottenham,” he said.

Hugely popular at Spurs, Son joked before the final that he was upset teammates Harry Kane and Dele Alli had not texted.

With the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders after overcoming Japan, he revealed that he was still waiting.

“Not yet, but it doesn’t matter — I know they’re focused on the Premier League, so no worries,” Son said.

“The coaching staff from Tottenham have been watching me. I hope this makes them happy. It’s the best present of my life,” he added.

Goals from South Korea’s Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Hee-chan would allow Son to see out his new contract in London, although a late header from Japan’s Ayase Ueda meant the defending champions had to survive a heart-stopping last few minutes.

Son, substituted in the dying seconds, sprinted from the bench to embrace World Cup goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, sobbing tears of joy as they rolled on the turf together.

“I’ve got the gold medal around my neck, but it really belongs to the Korean people,” he said. “Without them we couldn’t have won this tournament.”

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