2018 World Cup qualifying fixtures: South Korea’s Son Heung-min skips match to focus on Tottenham

Son Heung-min is skipping South Korea’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Syria on Tuesday to return to England and get his Tottenham Hotspur career on track.

Son Heung-min of South Korea talks to referee Mohammed Abdulla Hassan after being fouled during the 2018 World Cup qualifier against China at Seoul World Cup Stadium on September 1, 2016. Chung Sung-jun / Getty Images
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SEOUL // Son Heung-min is skipping South Korea's 2018 World Cup qualifier against Syria on Tuesday to return to England and get his Tottenham Hotspur career on track.

The 24-year-old forward moved from Bayer Leverkusen in August 2015 for a reported fee of around £22 million (Dh107.5m), making him the most expensive Asian player to be transferred.

Despite high expectations, Son made just 13 league starts for the London club and was overshadowed by stars such as Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, as well as England internationals Harry Kane and Dele Alli, who helped Spurs finish third, the club’s highest placing since 1990.

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The Korean's hopes of becoming a regular starter in his second season in the English Premier League have not been helped by a lengthy summer of international duty.

Son spent several weeks with South Korea for the Rio Olympics and World Cup qualification, missing all of Tottenham’s three league games so far and much of the club’s preseason.

After playing in last week's 3-2 World Cup qualifying win over China, Son confirmed he will be in London with his country's blessing as his national teammates take on Syria in Malaysia.

South Korea are letting Son return early, despite being under no obligation to do so, after Spurs released the player for the Rio Olympics.

“Tottenham are the team I wanted to join and I know that I have to work hard and play my best,” Son said. “I am in good condition and ready to go and play as well as I can.

“I am sorry to my national teammates and coach but I will support them and hope they get a good result against Syria.”

It has been a stressful few months for Son. When the English season ended in May, London's Daily Telegraph reported that Spurs were ready to sell the attacker.

This came just nine months after signing the Korean who had previously spent six successful seasons in Germany’s top tier with Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen.

The rumours persisted with further reports in England and Germany just before the end of the transfer window that Wolfsburg had made a £17 million bid for Son.

“I haven’t heard anything about my transfer,” Son said. “I don’t want to think about things happening outside the stadium. I just want to focus on playing football.”

But Son, who scored more than 10 league goals in each of his last three seasons in Germany, admitted that the transfer stories were worrying.

“It’s not a good sign that transfer rumours are coming out,” Son said. “But I think it’s meaningful that those in Germany acknowledge me.”

China hoping to take late-goal salvo from Korea match into game against Iran

China are hoping to reproduce the form that gave South Korea palpitations last week as they take on heavyweights Iran in another big World Cup qualifying test on Tuesday.

China fought back from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 with 14 minutes left in Seoul, ensuring a tense finale to a game which South Korea had looked like wrapping up with ease.

While China started the final round of Asian qualifying with a defeat, they are taking heart from the performance ahead of Tuesday’s home game against Iran in Shenyang.

"I don't think we have much pressure," said Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder Huang Bowen, according to the Global Times. "I just hope we can play the way we did in the last 15 minutes against South Korea."

China are bidding to reach only the second World Cup in a tough Group A which also brackets 2022 hosts Qatar, Uzbekistan and Syria.

They are not the only team needing a positive result with Japan, still smarting from a disallowed goal in their 2-1 defeat to UAE, facing a tricky away trip to Thailand.

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The top two teams from both of the six-strong Asian groups will earn spots at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while the third-placed teams go into a play-off series.

“Iran are stronger than us,” said Huang. “But we are playing at home, so I hope we can deliver.”

China’s first task will be to avoid conceding after Zheng Zhi’s own goal, followed by strikes from Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol, gave them a mountain to climb in Seoul.

Carlos Queiroz’s Iran are Asia’s top-ranked side at 39th in the world, and they started the qualifying round with a 2-0 victory over Qatar in Tehran, although both goals came in injury time.

"It's going to be very tough ... We come from different results in the first games, but the situation is reversed now that China will play at home," Queiroz said, according to the Global Times.

Keisuke Honda demands improvement from Japan teammates

In Bangkok, Japan desperately need a win after their shock loss to UAE, but it won’t be easy for the four-time Asian champions at a steamy Rajamangala Stadium.

Outspoken AC Milan forward Keisuke Honda read his younger teammates the riot act after last week’s defeat, telling them they need to work harder.

“A surprising number of players watch and read the news so they know what I say. I don’t think they are going to change straight away, but maybe become aware of the fact that they have to make more of an effort,” Honda said, according to Japan’s Kyodo News.

“I want to give them the opportunity to change their mindset. I have to pull the team forward when it needs pulling, and it’s not just me. There are a number of experienced players on this team that feel the same way.”

Elsewhere, war-torn Syria play their “home” fixture against South Korea in Malaysia, which is also hosting Iraq’s game against Saudi Arabia.


All times UAE

Tuesday, September 6

Group A

• China v Iran, 3.35pm

• Syria v South Korea, 4pm

• Qatar v Uzbekistan, 8pm

Group B

• Iraq v Saudi Arabia, 3pm

• Thailand v Japan, 4.15pm

• UAE v Australia, 7.30pm