Members of the South Korean men’s national soccer team train at the Paju National Soccer Center in Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
After recently turning the tale of his season around with a stunning hat-trick, Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min will be looking to stay warm as South Korea captain in a tune-up game of the World Cup this week.
Son and South Korea will host Costa Rica at Goyang Stadium in Goyang, just northwest of Seoul, at 8 p.m. Friday. It will be the first of two friendlies for South Korea this month, with Cameroon playing next Tuesday in Seoul.
South Korea, 28th in the world, has four wins, two draws and three defeats against Costa Rica, 34th. Their last encounter was in September 2018 at Goyang Stadium, a 2-0 win over South Korea on Paulo Bento’s debut as Taegeuk Warriors head coach.
As is often the case when donning the colors of the national team, Son will be in the spotlight, but for different reasons than those anticipated just a few days ago.
When Son was called up on September 13, he was still goalless in all competitions this season: six Premier League games and one UEFA Champions League game. Bento insisted he was not worried about Son and said he still trusted his captain.
Son remained quiet in a midweek Champions League game after the call but then broke his slump on Saturday by scoring three goals in 14 minutes from the bench against Leicester City.
The question is no longer whether Son can find his groove with the national team, but whether he can build on this impressive display of goalscoring prowess.
Another player to watch will be RCD Mallorca midfielder Lee Kang-in, who is part of the senior national team for the first time since March 2021.
The talented 21-year-old has worked his way into the final World Cup roster, after Bento kept him out of World Cup qualifiers and friendlies over the past few weeks. last 18 months. Lee is tied at the top of La Liga with three assists in six appearances and has shown newfound versatility, having taken on multiple attacking roles while putting his creativity and superb passing skills to good use.
Bento had previously left Lee from the squad apparently for his defensive shortcomings and lack of versatility compared to veteran midfielders. Lee has addressed these issues so far this season, having played in different positions for Mallorca this season while showing commitment defensively. Bento’s use of Lee will be an intriguing story to follow this month.
The national team will welcome back defensive stalwart Kim Min-jae, who missed four friendlies in June through injury. Kim made a smooth transition from Fenerbahce to Napoli, helping lead the Italian side to the top of the Serie A tables with his generally solid defensive performance.
There has been a change in the situation of goalkeepers. Veteran Jo Hyeon-woo was cut last Friday with a knee injury and replaced by Kim Dong-jun, who has only one cap.
Jo’s injury makes Kim Seung-gyu, with 64 caps, the undisputed No. 1 for September matches. The only other member of the goalkeeping squad, Song Bum-keun, also has just one cap, despite having made 54 appearances for the U20 and U23 national teams.
South Korea will make their 10th consecutive appearance at the World Cup in November in Qatar and face Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana in Group H.
Costa Rica will also be at the World Cup, where they will face Germany, Spain and Japan in Group E. (Yonhap)