No rest for Bundesliga’s Son Heung-min with Asian Cup on horizon

December 23, 2014
Leverkusen's Son Heung-min holds his head  during the Champions League qualifying soccer match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Copenhagen in Leverkusen, Germany, Wednesday, Aug.27,2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Leverkusen’s Son Heung-min holds his head during the Champions League qualifying soccer match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Copenhagen in Leverkusen, Germany, Wednesday, Aug.27,2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — In any other winter, Bayer Leverkusen winger Son Heung-min would be enjoying his holiday season around this time, with the Bundesliga in the annual mid-season break.

Yet this isn’t an ordinary December for the 22-year-old, and there will be little time for rest. Son has been selected for the South Korean team set to compete at the AFC Asian Cup, the continent’s largest tournament scheduled to kick off early next month in Australia. South Korea will compete to win its first Asian Cup since 1960.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday after being named the top South Korean male footballer of the year, Son said he is fully intent on ending the continental title drought in January.

“I think every player should feel proud to wear our national flag and should compete with a sense of responsibility,” Son said. “We will win the Asian Cup and prove that we’re the best in Asia.”

Son said he is well aware of the fact that South Korea, at least on paper, is not the top football nation in Asia, adding, “There’s no guarantee we will win the tournament.”

In the latest FIFA rankings, South Korea is 66th, the fourth highest among AFC member states behind Iran (51st), Japan (52nd) and Uzbekistan (65th).

With his versatility, energy and nose for the goal — he has 11 goals in 26 matches in all competitions this season — Son will be one of South Korea’s key offensive weapons. Head coach Uli Stielike has often bemoaned the players’ lack of polish around the net and the general shortage of scoring talent on the front line.

Son, who typically plays on the left wing on the secondary line of attack, will be under even more pressure to produce at the Asian Cup as South Korea will be without experienced strikers, such as Lee Dong-gook and Park Chu-young, who were left off by Stielike because of their injuries and inconsistent play of late.

Son said he hopes to build on his strong first half in the Bundesliga and maintain his form for the Asian Cup.

“I think I had a good first half, and the team also performed well,” Son said of Bayer Leverkusen, which is third in the top German league and has qualified for the knockout stage at the UEFA Champions League. “I will try to develop into an even better player in the second half of the season.”

South Korea is in Group A with Australia, Oman and Kuwait. South Korea’s quest for the elusive Asian Cup will begin against Oman on Jan. 10 in Canberra.

South Korea will stay in Canberra to take on Kuwait on Jan. 13. The Group A finale will be against Australia in Brisbane on Jan. 17

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