Son Heung-min warms up at the Al Egla training facility in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 16. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur) concluded his third World Cup on Tuesday. He went out in the round of 16. It was a costly result, earned as he battled injuries. This “crybaby,” who’d broken out in tears of regret in two previous tournaments, couldn’t manage to put on a smile after his third World Cup tournament, either. Close to tears after his final match, he apologized to Koreans and said he had “no doubt that the players fought proudly to get here, that they were devoted and worked hard.”
The journey was difficult. In fact, as recently as one month ago, it had been smooth sailing for Son as he made his way to Qatar. Last season, he became the first Asian player to become the top scorer in the English Premier League. This season, too, he was in his prime as one of Tottenham’s top attackers. He struggled a bit at the start of the season, but entering October, he was in top goal-scoring form, scoring multiple goals during the UEFA Champions League.
The problem came in the form of an unexpected injury. During a match against Marseille on Nov. 2, Son went down after taking a shoulder to the face as he battled for a ball in the air. Blood poured from his nose, and the area around his nose and eye immediately swelled. Son underwent testing after the match and was diagnosed with orbital bone fractures. This was just three weeks until the World Cup. Recovering from an orbital bone fracture usually requires eight weeks.
Son Heung-min receives medical assistance during a Champions League match between Tottenham and Olympique Marseille on Nov. 2. (EPA/Yonhap)
Son’s participation in the World Cup was in doubt. However, the Tottenham star was determined to make the impossible possible. Moving up his schedule, he received surgery just two days after the injury, and on Nov. 9, he wrote on his personal Instagram page that “Even if there’s only a 1% chance, I will take those odds and keep my eyes on the prize in the little time left.” He was determined to play in the World Cup, even wearing a mask to protect his face. In the end, he went to Qatar, and just 10 hours after arriving, he appeared on the training pitch wearing a black mask. It was a surprising display of resilience and fighting spirit.
Son Heung-min takes off his mask after the end of the first half of Korea’s match against Brazil in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Dec. 6 (Korea time). (Yonhap)
Arriving on the World Cup stage he dreamed about, Son started in all four of Korea’s matches during group play and the round of 16. And in the match against Portugal that determined Korea’s entry into the round of 16, he saved his team by assisting on the come-from-behind goal in added time of the second half. In the round of 16, he put up a bold fight against Brazil, FIFA’s top-ranked squad. Even though Korea got trounced 1-4, it was still a beautiful challenge. After the Brazil match, Son thanked fans for their support, and said, “Thank you for letting me enjoy a special experience I’d yet to have as a footballer so far.”
Son demonstrated in this tournament that “nothing is impossible.” Watching him crisscross the pitch, repeatedly adjusting his mask as it slipped down, and fighting for balls in the air in the face of danger, we felt strength with hope and devotion. The young rookie who took the pitch with bleached blonde hair in 2014 was standing before us, already captain on the field and in the hearts of Koreans.
By Lee Jun-hee, staff reporter
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