Tottenham’s Heung-min Son Scores for South Korea

HWASUNG, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 03: Son Heung-Min of South Korea reacts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier Round 2 - Group G match between South Korea and Laos at Hwaseong on September 3, 2015 in Hwasung, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
HWASUNG, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 03: Son Heung-Min of South Korea reacts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier Round 2 - Group G match between South Korea and Laos at Hwaseong on September 3, 2015 in Hwasung, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) /
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A stunning — if ultimately disappointing — performance by South Korea against Germany in Sunday’s Olympics group game owed a lot to Tottenham’s Heung-min Son.

South Korea’s under-23 side are arguably in the most difficult group in this summer’s Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. While they are fortunate enough to get to play lowly Fiji for the opening match of the tournament — and earn an 8-0 win in doing so — they were also tasked with overcoming Germany and Mexico.

Though it might not be the same Germany side that won the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, this under-23 side is stacked with as much quality as you might expect from the reigning champions. Mexico’s senior side is enjoying a resurgence of its own, one that began with their under-23 side winning gold in the 2012 London Olympics.

None of which would make it easy on South Korea. Their under-23 side won bronze in 2012, and Son himself was involved with the team that were runners up in last year’s Asian Cup, but it still seemed as if it would be a struggle to finish in the top two of the group and move on to the next round.

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Sunday’s match went some way to dispelling any doubt however. South Korea took the lead in the 25th minute but couldn’t hold Germany back for long. Arsenal’s Serge Gnarby would score int he 33rd minute, and Germany would claim the lead for themselves in the second half.

Just as the optimism of the opening goal had threatened to fade completely, Son stepped up. Two minutes after Germany’s second goal, the South Korea keeper Kim Dong-jun punted the ball downfield to Son as he raced down the pitch. After a one-two with striker Hwang Hee-chan, Son dribbled past two German defenders and nut-megged the keeper to score an equalizer.

The goal was arguably the most impressive of the match, and was just rewards for Son for his performance. Relying as it was on sitting deep and quickly transitioning forward in possession, South Korea leaned heavily on Son’s pace and ball control to move the ball toward the German area. His goal was the finest example, but it was far from the only moment of quality from Son in the match.

Suk Hyun-jun would go on to again take the lead for South Korea in the 86th minute, and it seemed as that goal would secure an unlikely victory. An unfortunate deflection from a Gnarby free kick deep into stoppage time allowed Germany to equalize however, thus denying South Korea the chance to go top of the group on points.

Mexico’s later win over Fiji took the defending champions to four points, tied with South Korea in the group. Their own dramatic win over Fiji meant that South Korea currently sit top on goal difference, but a lot will still hinge on their match against Mexico on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, it seems probable that South Korea will advance to the next round. That’s great news for Tottenham and its fans as it gets Son one step closer to earning an Olympic medal.

Beyond the pride of representing his country, winning a medal with his country would allow Son to exploit a loophole in South Korea’s compulsory conscription law. While most South Korean men are obliged to serve at least two years in the military, athletes who medal at an international competition are exempt from having to do so.

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Needless to say, it’s in Tottenham’s best interest not to lose their third most expensive player of all time for any length of time, much less two full years. Mauricio Pochettino and everyone involved at the club will thus continue to support South Korea’s efforts full-heartedly.