South Korea drop Son Heung-min for World Cup qualifier in ‘hope Tottenham make him available for Olympics’

Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund is chased by Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 first leg match between Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur at Signal Iduna Park on March 10, 2016 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
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Agence France-Presse

SEOUL // South Korean winger Son Heung-min, who has struggled for a regular space with Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur this season, has been left out of his national side's World Cup Qualifier later this month.

There was no place for Son in the 23-man squad named by Uli Stielike on Monday, although the German coach did include other European-based players who have had similar problems getting enough match play in recent months.

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South Korea hosts Lebanon on March 24 in Group G in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup.

The team has already clinched top spot in the group – and advancement to the final round of regional qualification – with six wins out of six.

A scheduled qualifier with Kuwait on March 29 has been postponed indefinitely, with Kuwait still under Fifa sanctions, and the national side has set up a replacement friendly against Thailand in Bangkok.

Stielike said dropping Son was aimed at having the same player available for this year’s summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

As the Olympic matches are not part of Fifa’s international match calendar, clubs are not obligated to release players.

“We’ve asked Tottenham to make Son available for the Olympics as a wild card, and in exchange, we offered not to select him for matches in March,” Stielike said.

“We hope they will give us a positive response,” he added.

There was a call-up for Crystal Palace midfielder Lee Chung-yong, Porto forward Suk Hyun-jun, as well as Kim Jin-su of Hoffenheim and Park Joo-ho of Borussia Dortmund.

Stielike, who played 42 times for West Germany, has a contract taking him through to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

He was appointed national coach in September, 2014, following the resignation of Hong Myung-bo, who stepped down after South Korea’s disappointing group-stage exit at the World Cup in Brazil.

Hong had been captain of the team that sent the entire nation into raptures with its unlikely journey to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, which included victories over Portugal, Italy and Spain.

After that, however, the national side’s fortunes went into steady decline. Hong and his squad were jeered on their return from Brazil last year.

Things have improved under Stielike and the squad’s 2015 match record reads 20 played and 16 wins, with three draws and just a single loss.

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