Son Heung-min cautious about 2018 World Cup

May 16, 2018
South Korean football player Son Heung-min speaks at a press conference in Seoul on May 15, 2018. (Yonhap)

South Korean football player Son Heung-min speaks at a press conference in Seoul on May 15, 2018. (Yonhap)

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, May 15 (Yonhap) — Tottenham Hotspur’s South Korean forward Son Heung-min said Tuesday he feels cautious rather than confident about the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Son is one of the 28 players who made South Korea’s provisional roster for the World Cup in Russia, which was unveiled Monday. South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong needs to drop five players from the preliminary list to confirm his final 23-man squad by June 4, but Son is considered one of the players who is safe from roster cuts due to his performance in Europe.

“In my first World Cup in 2014, I had big expectations and confidence, but for this year’s World Cup, I feel cautious and actually have some concerns,” Son said in a press conference organized by his sponsor Adidas in Seoul. “I learned from my previous experience that confidence doesn’t always bring success at the World Cup. I hope many players can recognize this.”

South Korea are considered the weakest team in Group F at the 2018 World Cup. South Korea will open their Group F campaign with Sweden in Nizhny Novgorod on June 18 and will face Mexico five days later in Rostov-on-Don. The Taeguk Warriors will take on defending champions, Germany, in Kazan on June 27.

“I really think that we can see humiliation,” he said. “I think if we can just pass the group stage, that will be a success. I’m really desperate for this World Cup.”

When asked about what his team should do in order to win, Son said the players need to make more runs and give extra effort on the pitch.

“There are qualitative differences in football, but you can narrow that gap by improving your mentality and using your physique,” he said. “If we run more, help teammates more and play as a team, I think we have a chance. We have to play like there are 12 players on the pitch.”

Son, 25, said he has grown up from his 2014 World Cup experience. In Brazil, South Korea suffered an early exit after collecting one draw and two losses in the group stage.

“Back then, I was a young player who played with full confidence,” he said. “But now, I have more experience and some players who are younger than me.”

Son, who played with German Bundesliga clubs Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg before joining Spurs in August 2015, said he has big expectations on the match against Germany, currently world’s No. 1 team.

“I don’t know which German players will compete against us, but I know I’ll talk with some German players after the match,” he said. “It was my dream to play against Germany on the big stage, so I need to be very well prepared for the match.”

Although many fans and media point to Son as the ace of the national team, the Tottenham attacker said he disagrees.

“I don’t think I’m special,” he said. “I hope my team can be special.”

If he is the most wanted target by opponents, Son said he’ll use that to create chances for his teammates.

“I don’t feel any pressure when I hear that I’ll be watched closely by the opponents,” he said. “I actually want to enjoy it. If the opposing players focus only on me, that can actually give opportunities to my teammates.”

Son, who has 20 goals in 63 matches for South Korea, said he’ll try to smile at the World Cup and make fans excited, although he is not sure whether he can score goals.

“I have yet to think about specific goal celebrations, and there’s no guarantee that I will score,” he said. “I want fans to smile by watching me smile during the match. The reason I cry at some times is that I hate losing.”

Son enjoyed another impressive stint with the Spurs in the English Premier League (EPL) this season. The 25-year-old South Korean ended the EPL campaign with 12 goals, sharing 10th place on the scoring list with Riyad Mahrez of Leicester, Eden Hazard of Chelsea and Glenn Murray of Brighton. It was the first time in EPL history that an Asian footballer finished the season in the top 10 in goal scoring.

Including other competitions, Son had 18 goals total this season. He also bagged four goals at the UEFA Champions League and two more at the English Football Association Cup.

Son admitted that he ran out of gas at the end of the season but vowed that he’ll recover his form before the World Cup.

“I really played a lot this season, but luckily I had no big injuries and gained some experience,” he said. “I did take painkillers for the last six week to play in matches, but there aren’t footballers who are free from injury. I’ll take some rest this week, and I’ll be fine.”

Son will begin training with his national teammates at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, next Monday to prepare for their two World Cup tuneup matches at home.

South Korea is set to face Honduras in Daegu on May 28 and will take on Bosnia and Herzegovina in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, on June 1. The men’s national team will then fly to its pre-World Cup training camp in Austria to play two more friendlies. South Korea will face Bolivia on June 7 and square off with Senegal on June 11 before they enter their World Cup base camp in St. Petersburg on June 12.

“I know people are concerned about our World Cup performance, but I want them to know that we’re doing our best to meet their expectations,” he said. “It’s too early to judge our World Cup performance. We just need and want more fan support.”