Tottenham star Son Heung-min does not feel he’s being unfairly targeted after the South Korea skipper helped steer his side into the Asian Cup quarter-finals following a hard-fought 2-1 win over Bahrain on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old darling of his nation spoke to reporters after the match with a visible bruise on his left ear after he received a boot to the head in a physical encounter.
He was also subjected to rough treatment during his bow at the tournament as he provided two assists in the 2-0 victory over China last Wednesday as Korea finished top of Group C.
But Son played down suggestions that opposition players were targeting him – despite a diminished impact as the Taegeuk Warriors secured their passage into the last eight, where they play Qatar on Friday.
“No, never in football, it’s not about being targeted,” said the Spurs schemer after Korea’s 2-1 extra-time victory.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to play with a team who have 10 players in defence and you can’t find the space. I’m not worried about this. I have to learn from this and we should play better than this game.”
Son, who has been in sublime form for Spurs this season, forming a fearsome foursome in attack with Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli – he has scored 12 goals in 28 appearances in all competitions – has also had to adapt quickly to conditions in the UAE.
He only flew out following Spurs’ 1-0 Premier League defeat to Manchester United at Wembley 10 days ago.
“You know, it’s about the mentality. I’m tired of course after the game, but I’ll try to recover as quick as possible and play again,” he said when asked about the possibility of playing potentially three more games of 120 minutes if Korea make it to the Asian Cup final and have to go the distance each time.
“I can recover. It’s the same when I’m at Tottenham, I have to recover as quick as possible and look forward to playing.”
Korea advanced to the last eight following a gritty win in which goals from Hamburg’s Hwang Hee-chan and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors left-back Kim Jin-su earned Paulo Bento’s side victory.
1996 ✅— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) 22 January 2019
Korea Republic have progressed to the quarter final stages of the #AsianCup in each of their last 7⃣ appearances at the competition. Streak. pic.twitter.com/6EkkjhsiBs
Son added: “It was a tough game. We played against a team who had so many players in defence and then played on the counter so it’s not easy. It wasn’t a great performance and we’re better than that.”
Some of Asia’s heavyweights remain in the competition, including record four-time winners Japan, the continent’s highest ranked team in FIFA, Iran, as well as reigning champions Australia, who Son and Co could come up against in the last four if both sides win their quarter-finals.
And Son feels Korea can reach the final, although he is not looking beyond Friday’s clash in Abu Dhabi.
“Why not,” he said. “We’re looking forward to playing a quarter-final which is going to be a very tough game like today, so we’re looking forward. We got the result. The performance was not great but sometimes you take the result.
“We don’t focus on other teams. We are happy because we are doing well and we focus on us because that is most important.”
Son also touched on Korea’s tribute to Newcastle United midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, who had to return to England from the Emirates after picking up an injury. Team-mates held his No16 shirt aloft as they paraded around the Rashid Stadium pitch following full time in Dubai on Tuesday.
And Son added: “He’s a big miss. He’s one of the best players in the squad and of course we’re going to miss him. Someone else has to be ready to bounce up and has to show what they can do if they play.”
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