Asian Cup 2019: South Korea talking points as Lieutenant Son inspires Taegeuk Warriors win

Matt Jones - Editor 19:51 16/01/2019
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Son Heung-min started and starred for South Korea with the Tottenham forward instrumental in his side’s 2-0 victory over China at the Asian Cup.

The Taegeuk Warriors had battled to unimpressive 1-0 victories in their first two group games in the UAE, but Son featured in a surprisingly strong line-up and created both goals at Al Nahyan Stadium.

He tricked a foul out of a Chinese defender for the first goal, Hwang Ui-jo netting the opener from the spot after Son was fouled. He then swung in the corner from which Kim Min-jae thumped a header home for the second goal.

The win saw Korea top Group C, and here are our key talking points from the encounter.

RETURN OF PRODIGAL SON INSPIRES KOREA

 FBL-ASIA-2019-KOR-CHN

Just like they had been at the Asian Games, Korea were shorn of their superstar in the initial stages of the Asian Cup – with Tottenham titan Son belatedly joining up with his international colleagues this week.

Coach Paulo Bento suggested pre-match that Son would play no part as he adapted to his new surroundings – both sides were already guaranteed to finish in the top two before kick-off, so why take a risk?

But the former Portugal boss selected Son as skipper in a surprisingly strong Korea starting XI and reaped the rewards as the Spurs star shone in a virtuoso display.

Korea were resplendent in their red shirts, looking dangerous every time they poured forward, with Son pulling the China strings.

He was felled for the penalty, converted expertly by Hwang, and swung in the corner from which Kim’s bullet header gave Bento’s side a two-goal cushion. The favourite Son is home, and the rest of the tournament had better watch out.

TAEGEUK WARRIORS READY FOR TITLE BATTLE

Kim Min-jae scored South Korea's second.

Kim Min-jae scored South Korea’s second, and his second goal of the tournament.

Korea have been far from flawless so far, but in a game predicted to be a dead rubber, it was anything but as both sides went toe to toe with each other for Group C supremacy.

As can often be the case at major tournaments, the elite sides do not always soar from the start. That has certainly been the case with the Taegeuk Warriors, who had to battle through their first two games to record 1-0 victories over the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan.

It was something of a similar story for their U-23s at last year’s Asian Games, falling to a 2-1 defeat against Malaysia and a nervy 1-0 win required against Kyrgyzstan to emerge from their group, after an emphatic 6-0 blitz of Bahrain in their opener.

After that they never looked back as the gold medal was secured. With Son in situ and looking in sync with his team-mates, you’d be brave not to back them for glory again in the UAE.

WU IS ME

China keeper Yan Junling was a busy man in Abu Dhabi.

China keeper Yan Junling was a busy man in Abu Dhabi.

Without their own star man in Wu Lei, China look limited. They still have their talismanic veteran skipper Zheng Zhi to lead them into the knockouts, but unless Shanghai SIPG sensation Wu can recover from a collarbone injury he’s been nursing since the opening game against Kyrgyzstan, prospects of glory are slim.

Korea, Japan, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the favourites for the Asian Cup title, with Marcello Lippi’s side and everyone else definitely a level below. Wu remains with Team Dragon in the Emirates, but even with him fit for the knockout rounds, they face a tall task to scale the heights and compete with the tournament’s giants.

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