Son Heung-min is set to miss South Korea’s first two matches at the Asian Cup in January under a compromise agreed with Tottenham Hotspur to release him for this month’s Asian Games, the Korea Football Association (KFA) said on Wednesday.
The South Korean striker will fly to Indonesia for the Asian Games – where a gold medal is likely to win him exemption from military service – after Spurs’ Premier League season opener against Newcastle United on August 11, a KFA spokesman said.
Spurs had initially sought to keep Son back until August 18, when they have a Premier League match against Fulham. That would have effectively kept the 26-year-old out of the group stage for Asia’s mini-Olympics, where the football tournament runs from August 14 to September 2.
But, Spurs later relented, striking a deal that rules Son out of South Korea’s Asian Cup games on January 7 and 11 against the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan, as well as an international friendly in November.
There are precedents for footballers being granted exemptions from South Korea’s 21-month military service, as happened in 2002, when the national team reached the World Cup semi-finals, and in 2014, when they won gold at the Asian Games in Incheon. However, Son missed South Korea’s triumph in 2014 when his former club, Bayer Leverkusen, refused to release him.
Son, who is on Spurs’ pre-season tour of the United States, said he felt “sorry to be leaving my team-mates” for the Asian Games at the start of the Premier League season.
“I am playing for my country and that’s also important, but honestly I feel very sorry about that,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail. Asian Games gold and a military service exemption would be a consolation for Son, who broke down in tears when South Korea were eliminated at the World Cup group stage despite stunning Germany 2-0 in their final game.
Son, who last month signed a new deal keeping him at Spurs until 2023, has emerged as one of the club’s key players, scoring 47 goals in 140 appearances to become the top Asian scorer in Premier League history.