(Asian Cup) Son Heung-min apologizes to fans after S. Korea bow out of semifinals

February 7, 2024

South Korean captain Son Heung-min apologized to fans after his team got knocked out of the semifinals at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar on Tuesday.

South Korea were not credited with a shot on target as Jordan blanked them 2-0 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, to book a spot in the final.

The Taegeuk Warriors were trying to win their first AFC title since 1960.

Asked about his thoughts on the match in a televised interview, Son kept his head down and gathered his thoughts for a few moments before saying, “I really don’t know what to say.”

“I am really sorry to our supporters,” Son said, trying to fight back tears. “We all did our best, but we’re really sorry that our mistakes led to this kind of result.”

Because of the six-hour difference between Qatar and South Korea, all knockout matches for South Korea kicked off during late hours. Son thanked supporters back home for their “incredible support” and added, “I am terribly sorry that we didn’t live up to their expectations.”

“I will try to get better as a player and also help our national team take the next step,” Son added.

Son played every second of South Korea’s six matches at the tournament, which included a penalty shootout win over Saudi Arabia in the round of 16 and an extra-time victory over Australia in the quarterfinals.

Son finished tied for the team lead with Lee Kang-in with three goals.

Son also gave his oft-criticized head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, a vote of confidence. The German tactician has been blamed for not getting the most out of the talented South Korean squad, but Son said Klinsmann will emerge from this experience as a better coach.

“Even before the tournament, there was so much negativity surrounding the coach, and I think he must have been under a lot of pressure. I found it to be an unfortunate situation,” Son said. “But he never once let it show on the outside as he interacted with us and took care of us. I was really impressed with the way he handled himself in such a difficult situation. I am sure he will be hardened by this experience. He will go back to Korea and analyze this tournament, and I think he will build an even better squad.”

Asked if Klinsmann can lead South Korea to a strong showing at the next FIFA World Cup in 2026, Son said, “I will have to think about whether I will still be a part of the national team.”

Son, though, is not retiring from international play. He was merely stating the off chance that Klinsmann would stop calling him up.

“The coach may no longer consider me for the team and you never know how the future will play out,” Son added.

As the leader of the squad, Son also thanked his teammates for their dedication throughout the tournament.

“I want to thank them for thinking about nothing but this team and sacrificing themselves so much over the past several weeks,” Son said. “Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted, I am still very grateful. I hope an experience such as this will help those guys grow in the future.”

Midfielder Lee Jae-sung had South Korea’s best scoring chance in the 32nd minute, when his header, set up by Hwang In-beom’s cross, struck the right goal post. Hitting the woodwork doesn’t count as a shot on target, and South Korea finished with zero shot on goal.

“That was the most disappointing moment. If I had scored there, we would have been in a more comfortable spot,” Lee said. “I think it will stay with me for a while. It’s just devastating.”

Hwang said the players should take this opportunity to reflect on their performances.

“We have World Cup qualifying matches coming up and so there’s no time for us to stay down,” Hwang added. “We’ll try to come back as a better team.”

Lee Kang-in, the co-leading scorer for South Korea, thanked his head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff for their hard work and came to their defense.

“We lost as a team. And I don’t think it’s right to direct criticism at one player or the coach,” Lee said. “If people want to take their shots at anyone, they can blame me.”

Lee claimed he and his players will have to move forward.

“We all have to think about how we can make the national team better and try to move in a positive direction,” Lee said. “I’ve learned so much at this tournament. I have long ways to go myself.”