S. Korea U-23 football coach says Son Heung-min willing to compete at Asian Games

April 24, 2018
South Korea men's under-23 national football team head coach Kim Hak-bum speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport in Incheon on April 24, 2018. (Yonhap)

South Korea men’s under-23 national football team head coach Kim Hak-bum speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport in Incheon on April 24, 2018. (Yonhap)

INCHEON, April 24 (Yonhap) — South Korean men’s under-23 football coach Kim Hak-bum said Tuesday that Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min is willing to compete at the Asian Games this summer.

Kim returned home after checking on South Korean footballers in Europe. The 58-year-old coach, who took the helm of the U-23 team in February, said he met with Son in Britain and talked to him about an Asian Games selection. This year’s Asian Games will be held from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 in Indonesia, roughly two months after the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

“Son has a strong will to compete at the Asian Games,” Kim told reporters at Incheon International Airport. “But first, there’s the World Cup. I told Son to play well in Russia before we meet at the Asian Games.”

The Asian Games are restricted to players under 23, but teams can field up to three players known as wild cards who are over the age limit.

In South Korea, male athletes who earn an Olympic medal or win gold at the Asian Games are exempted from the country’s mandatory two-year military service. Son, 25, has yet to complete his military service, and winning gold at the upcoming Asian Games would mean that his professional career could continue without interruption.

Son is currently one of the high-flying attackers in the English Premier League, having netted 12 goals in 33 matches this season.

Kim admitted that getting permission from Tottenham is crucial. Unlike FIFA tournaments, the clubs are not obligated to release their players for the Asian Games.

“It’s a sensitive issue,” Kim said. “I believe the Korea Football Association will handle this matter well. The men’s senior national team, the U-23 team, the KFA and the player’s club should all work closely.”

This photo taken by the Associated Press shows Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min (R) trying to take a shot as Manchester United's Antonio Valencia tackles during the English FA Cup semifinal match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium in London on April 21, 2018. (Yonhap)

This photo taken by the Associated Press shows Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min (R) trying to take a shot as Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia tackles during the English FA Cup semifinal match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium in London on April 21, 2018. (Yonhap)

Kim, who previously coached Seongnam, Gangwon and Gwangju in the K League 1, said he also watched South Korean U-23 players in Europe. The players he met during his trip include Hwang Hee-chan of Red Bull Salzburg, Lee Jin-hyun of Austria Wien, Lee Seung-woo of Hellas Verona, Paik Seung-ho of Peralada-Girona B, Seo Young-jae of Hamburg and Kim Jung-min of FC Liefering.

“All the players were working hard, and they all wanted to play for the U-23 national team,” he said. “I can’t give you all the details of each player, but all of them had a strong will to join this team.”

Kim said he will call up these U-23 players during the World Cup to check their form.

“We don’t have enough time to train, so I’ll call up every player that has a chance (to make the Asian Games team),” he said. “Of course, we need to speak with the players’ respective clubs, but that’s why I went to Europe.”

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