The Tottenham Hotspur forward missed his team’s first two games in AFC Asian Cup.
Heavyweights of Eastern Asia headline the final round of games in Group C in the AFC Asian Cup, as favourites South Korea take on Marcello Lippi’s China. With both teams having confirmed qualification with easy wins over Kyrgyz Republic and the Philippines, they now aim to fight for the group’s crown.
Much is at stake for both teams, as the winners of the group get an easier pathway in the knockout rounds. However, for South Korea, scoring goals has been problematic so far. They’ve only scored two, but both their games didn’t justify the scoreline. Against the Kyrgyz Republic, in particular, the Taegeuk Warriors attempted 19 shots, but could only score a single goal. Lee Chung-yong, Hwang Hee-chan and Hwan Ui-oi missed easy chances and weren’t helped by some terrible luck.
However, the plus side is the return of captain Son Heung-min. After extending his stay with Tottenham Hotspur due to the encounter against Manchester United, Son has now joined up with his teammates, just in time for the big match. South Korea have looked clueless in attack so far without him and Son’s world-class ability will definitely raise their game.
Things will not be easy against a China side, who’ve been transformed into a prime Marcelo Lippi outfit. After their “embarrassing” goalless draw to the Indian national team earlier in 2018, which drew a lot of criticism from pundits and fans alike, Lippi’s done well to prepare his side for the big stage.
Team Dragon possess one of the most intimidating squads in the tournament. With towering, physically superior defenders and clever tactics from the expert Italian, China’s only conceded a single goal so far. Due to their rigid system, a narrow back four and the defensive prowess of the midfielders, its really difficult to break them down at the back.
The Taegeuk Warriors have also been impressive defensively, keeping two clean-sheets. However, the attacking threat of Wu Lei, Gao Lin, Zheng Zhi and clinical substitute Yu Dabao cannot be undermined. Team Dragon might be known for their defensive sturdiness, but are extremely effective in set-pieces and capable of unpredictable, smooth attacks through the wings, which can carve open the best if defences.
If South Korea keeps on playing as they did against Kyrgyz Republic, they don’t have much chance of getting all three points. But here’s where Son’s impact could be felt. The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder hasn’t played in the tournament so far, meaning the Chinese defenders won’t be aware of how to isolate him from his teammates. He should replace the ineffective Lee Chung-Yong and despite majorly operating as a forward for Korea, he could even start on the left.
Like he’s been doing so profoundly at Tottenham Hotspur, Son can be a huge threat moving in from the left. His pace and acceleration, along with impressive close-control and dribbling ability can cause huge problems for Zheng Linpeng. However, Son’s biggest strength is how he creates space for himself in the final third to roam into goalscoring positions. The forward’s striking ability in and around the box is superb, with his powerful shots extremely difficult to keep out of goal.
Beyond scoring goals, his delivery from set-pieces and impressive creativity in stitching together clever passes will create scenarios which Ui-oi and Co. will thrive on. The forward might not have had much preparation with his squad ahead of the Asian Cup, but he comes in red-hot form, having participated in eight goals in the last five games for Spurs.
Four years ago, Son scored three goals for Korea Republic in helping them reach the final of the tournament. This time, enjoying peak form, he will aim to start with a blast by winning The Taegeuk Warriors the group and brushing aside Marcelo Lippi’s rigid China.