There goes the military exemption

August 13, 2014

German club refuses to release Son Heung-min for the Asian Games

Son Heung-min

Son Heung-min

By Nam Hyun-woo

The Korean national football team’s quest to win a gold medal in the upcoming Asian Games hit a snag Wednesday, as it failed to get Bayer Leverkusen forward Son Heung-min ― one of the most wanted players for the team ― included on its roster.

The German club rejected a request from the Korea Football Association (KFA) to send Son to the national team during the Asiad in Incheon from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4, according to the nation’s football governing body.

The KFA said it will organize the national team without Son and not ask the Bundesliga club again to release the 22-year-old for the Asiad.

“The KFA cannot call up Son for the 2014 Incheon Asian Games,” the KFA said in an announcement.

On the previous day, Lee Yong-soo, head of the KFA technical committee asked the German club to allow the 22-year-old to play for his country at least for matches in the round of 16 after an initial rejection.

The German club, who finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season said they also need Son, as he is a key player in their offense, ahead of UEFA Champions League qualifiers. Since the Asian Games matches are not on the official FIFA calendar, clubs are not obliged to release players for the event.

Following the decision, team coach Lee Kwang-jong will announce a 20-man squad today. Korea will play its first group match on Sept. 14, with the group draws scheduled on Aug. 21.

Son’s absence in the squad will likely deal a heavy blow to the Koreans’ bid to collect a gold in the Asiad for the first time since 1986.

While building up the squad earlier, coach Lee repeatedly said that Son was essential for his team.

The forward was one of the few bright players for Korea during the country’s dismal campaign at the Brazil World Cup in June. Son was highly rated for bringing dynamism to the stagnant team. He scored one goal in Korea’s 2-4 loss to Algeria.

With Son’s absence, keen attention is now being placed on who will lead Korea’s offense.

Lee said earlier that he will give one “wild card,” which is given to players over the Olympic age limit of 23, to a forward to strengthen the team’s decisiveness. So far, Ulsan Hyundai striker Kim Shin-wook, 26, is on his radar.

Lee Jong-ho of Jeonnam Dragons, Yun Il-lok of FC Seoul and Kim Seung-dae of Pohang Steelers can play in Son’s position ― left wing forward ― and are talked as most-likely alternatives to Son.

Lee, 22, is leading the K-League Classic’s scoring table with nine goals, along with Hyundai’s Lee Dong-gook. Kim mostly plays in attacking midfielder at his club, but he can also play on the flank.