South Korea gives Tottenham boost in English title

March 14, 2016
Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring during the Europa League Group J soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Qarabag FK at the White Hart Lane stadium in London, England, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Tottenham players are happy that they don’t have to be without Son Heung-min for the stretch run of the English Premier League title race. (AP, file)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Son Heung-min has been left out of South Korea’s squad for their next two internationals as part of a proposal to let him remain with Tottenham Hospur as they chase the English Premier League title in return for being allowed to represent his country at the Rio Olympics.

With Tottenham currently second in the English Premier League standings, and aiming to become champion for the first time since 1961, coach Uli Stielike agreed to let Korea’s star attacker stay in England rather than be picked for his national team. In opting not to selecting Son, Stielike hopes that Spurs will return the favour and release him for the Rio Olympics in August.

“We’ve asked Tottenham to make Son available for the Olympics as a wild card, and in exchange, we offered not to select him for matches in March,” Stielike told a press conference in Seoul on Monday.

Son joined Tottenham in August last year and while he is not a regular starter, he is often named as a substitute by the London team, who are currently two points behind league leader Leicester City.

The men’s Olympic soccer tournament is restricted to players aged 23 and under, although each team is allowed to pick three overage players. Son turns 24 in July.

South Korea hopes to select Son as one of its ‘wild cards’ but needs Tottenham’s permission because the Olympic tournament is not part of FIFA’s International Match Calendar.

“Tottenham are in a battle for the Premier League title and they have UEFA Europa League matches remaining,” Stielike said. “But since our association is being considerate of the club, we hope they will give us a positive response.”

South Korea takes Olympic soccer seriously. Any male athlete who wins a medal is granted exemption from mandatory military service. At the 2012 Olympics, Korea’s squad took bronze.

Korea’s two international fixtures in March both carry little weight. The first, a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Lebanon on March 24, is a dead-rubber as the East Asians have already won their group and advanced to the final round of qualification, starting later this year. The second fixture, three days later, is a friendly against Thailand.