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Spurs star Son must win Asian Games to avoid 21-month military service derailing career


Son Heung-Min.

Son Heung-Min.

Son Heung-Min.

Tottenham's Son Heung-min faces a unique and potentially career-defining week as he leads South Korea into the knock-out stages of the Asian Games.

The tournament is Son's last chance to earn an exemption from South Korea's mandatory military duty, a prospect that threatens to derail the 26-year-old's footballing career just as he enters his prime.

All fit and able men in South Korea are required to serve a minimum of 21 months of military service. Exemptions are applied for extraordinary sporting achievements, and a gold medal at the Asian Games is usually considered one of these.

The task is made somewhat more challenging by the fact Son will not play with his usual supporting cast that dumped Germany out of the World Cup earlier this summer. As with football at the Olympics, squads at the Asian Games must consist of players under the age of 23, although each nation can select three players of any age as 'wildcards', of which Son is one.

South Korea advanced to the knock-out stages of the competition as Son scored the only goal in their 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan. His heroics set up a clash with the highest-ranked team in Asia, Iran, tomorrow at midday Irish time.

Victory over the Iranians, which is by no means guaranteed, will likely secure a meeting with a talented Uzbekistan side, and there is no doubt that South Korea have landed in the tougher side of the draw.

Speaking ahead of possibly the most important week of his footballing career, Son himself is under no illusions that if his side are to prevail, it will have been hard-earned.

“The Iran team are very strong. We need to prepare very well,” Son told AFP.

“We are all professional players, so I think they should learn by themselves — I don’t think I need to say anything to them.

“But we know what we need to improve on for the next game.”

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“Iran and another strong team Uzbekistan could both be the champion for this tournament,” Son added. “We all have the chance to get the gold medal."

“Every match could be our last match,” South Korea coach Kim Hak-bum told reporters. A simple message that drives home the precarious nature of knock-out football, but, for Son at least, on this occasion there is far more than silverware on the line.

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