Tears of joy at last for emotional captain Sonny

December 5, 2022

Son Heung-min wears his South Korean captain’s armband on the left sleeve of his shirt. On the other sleeve, he wears his emotions.

Among South Korean football fans, Son is as famous for momentous goals and assists as for his emotional reaction to losses in international matches.

Search through some big defeats suffered by South Korea at recent FIFA World Cups or other tournaments, and you will invariably find photos or videos of Son crying. It is difficult to believe a player seemingly so stoic and steely during a match can show such raw emotions afterward.

At this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Son was able to shed some tears of joy at long last.

To be sure, Son did cry out of anger and frustration after losing to Ghana 3-2 in the second Group H match. The result put South Korea in a tough spot, as they had to beat Portugal and then get help from the Uruguay-Ghana match on the last day of Group H play.

The stars aligned perfectly for South Korea, who defeated Portugal 2-1 with second-half sub Hwang Hee-chan scoring stoppage-time winner. Uruguay defeated Ghana 2-0 but lost out to South Korea for the second spot in the group in the goals scored, the second tiebreaking category.

Son, who set up Hwang’s goal with a brilliant pass through multiple legs, started crying as soon as the finale whistle blew.

The joy and elation, however, quickly gave way to dejection Monday night, when South Korea bowed out of the World Cup in Qatar with a 4-1 loss to Brazil at Stadium 974 in Doha. Son wore an expression of resignation afterward, apparently trying to come to grips with the devastating blow to South Korea’s World Cup dream.

Son has long been the heart and soul of South Korea and was even more so in Qatar, where he played only weeks after undergoing facial surgery. He’d sustained fractures around his left eye in a collision with another player on Nov. 1 and had an operation three days later. By Nov. 24, Son was on the field, in his now-signature black carbon mask.

He was not close to being 100 percent. He did not find the back of the net here, thus unable to match Park Ji-sung as the only South Korean player to score in three consecutive World Cups.

Whenever he fielded questions about pitfalls of playing so soon after his surgery, Son always said it was his responsibility as a professional football player to bear those risks.

At age 30, Son has now played in three World Cups. He could potentially be around for another in four years’ time.

“As long as the national team needs me, I will give everything I have,” Son added. “Four years is a long time. I will think about that possibility over those four years.”

Whether he will be able to keep his emotions in check then is anyone’s guess at this point.