Injured Son Heung-min named to S. Korean roster for friendly vs. Japan

March 15, 2021

 Injured star Son Heung-min has been named to the South Korean national team for an upcoming men’s football friendly match against Japan.

Head coach Paulo Bento unveiled his 24-man roster Monday at a press conference at the Korea Football Association (KFA) House in Seoul. South Korea and Japan, two longtime archrivals, will clash on March 25 in Yokohama for their first showdown since December 2019.

Just hours before Bento’s announcement, Son suffered a left hamstring injury in a Premier League match against Arsenal on Sunday in London. Son pulled up grabbing the back of his left leg and walked off in the 19th minute of the 2-1 loss.

It remains unclear whether Son will be able to dress or even train for the national team. Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho said afterward he didn’t know how long Son would be sidelined but noted that he recovers quickly from any kind of injury.

Bento said he also didn’t have any update on Son’s status but added the KFA has been in touch with Tottenham on the player’s condition.

“We’re still awaiting the result of his test,” Bento said. “Once we get the word then we’ll decide whether to keep him on the roster or not.”

Clubs are typically obligated to release their international players for FIFA-sanctioned matches. Under temporary rule changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs don’t have to make those players available, depending on travel restrictions in their respective countries.

Though the KFA managed to pry Son from Tottenham, Bento will not have the services of other overseas-based players that include Bordeaux forward Hwang Ui-jo, Beijing Guoan defender Kim Min-jae, Shandong Taishan midfielder Son Jun-ho and Holstein Kiel midfielder Lee Jae-sung.

RB Leipzig forward Hwang Hee-chan is on Bento’s team for now, but his Bundesliga club and local health authorities are still in talks over exempting him from quarantine upon his return to Germany. If Hwang isn’t granted exemption, he will be dropped from the national team.

Other players coming in from outside South Korea are Nam Tae-hee and Jung Woo-young of Al Sadd in Qatar and Jeong Woo-yeong of SC Freiburg in Germany. Four Japan-based players were also named: Kashiwa Reysol goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, Cerezo Osaka goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon, and a pair of Gamba Osaka teammates, defender Kim Young-gwon and midfielder Ju Se-jong.

Valencia CF midfielder Lee Kang-in will be flying in from Spain.

From the domestic K League, Ulsan Hyundai FC goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo is expected to get the nod against Japan. He is one of six players from Ulsan, currently at the top of the tables, with Won Du-jae, Hong Chul and Kim Tae-hwan being named to the eight-man defense corps.

No player from the three-time defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors was named. Gyeongnam FC striker Lee Jung-hyub is the only player from the second-tier K League 2 on Bento’s squad.

The KFA has reached an agreement with the government so that the national team players and coaches traveling from South Korea will be exempted from mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arriving back home. Instead, they will enter one-week cohort isolation in a biosecure bubble at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul, and will rejoin their respective clubs afterward.

South Korea and Japan have played each other 79 times, and South Korea have a substantial edge with 42 wins, 23 draws and 14 losses.

The upcoming match falls in the next FIFA international match window of March 22-30. Due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, South Korea, much like many other countries, have barely played any matches over the past year or so. All of their scheduled World Cup qualifying matches in 2020 were wiped out, and it wasn’t until November that they played their first international friendlies of the year.

Those delayed World Cup qualifiers have once again been pushed back from March to June, and there was a mutual interest for South Korea and Japan to get in some action.