S. Korea coach Bento hails captain Son Heung-min as ‘good professional’

SEOUL-- Son Heung-min is every football coach's dream, a superstar with world-class offensive skills and leadership qualities to boot. And Paulo Bento, head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, is only so lucky to have Son as his captain.

"He's a good professional," Bento summed it up on Thursday, moments after Son's goal helped South Korea beat Iran 2-0 in their World Cup qualifying match at Seoul World Cup Stadium. It was South Korea's first victory over Iran in more than 11 years, and sent South Korea to first place in Group A of the final Asian World Cup qualifying round with one match left.

"He keeps having good motivation to play on the national team and ambitions to make good things for the national team and make people happy," Bento continued. "And of course, he has the support of all the other players that make his job as captain easier. And this is the most important: We all work together and we play as a team. And good results that players are achieving make the position of captain much easier."

Son, one of the top goal scorers in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur, stayed hot in international play with his first-half injury-time goal on Thursday. With four opposing players closing in on him, Son scored from just outside the box -- a shot struck so hard that goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh couldn't quite stop it even though the ball came almost right at him.

Bento noted how the goal helped swing the pendulum in his team's favor ahead of the second half.

"It was one of the aspects that I think influenced the game," Bento said. "When you score first, it's always good help for the team."

The goal sent the sellout crowd of 64,375 into a frenzy. It was the largest gathering at a sporting event in South Korea during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first sellout at Seoul World Cup Stadium since March 2019.

And the usually reticent Bento also appeared to feed off the crowd's energy. After Kim Young-gwon's second goal in the 63rd minute, Bento pumped his fist and let out a scream in a rare show of raw emotions.

"(Fans) came to the stadium to see the players and to enjoy them, and not to enjoy the coach or see the coach's celebration," Bento said somewhat sheepishly. "The goal was one of the most important moments in the game. It was good to have the opportunity to celebrate with all the fans. I'd like to thank them for all their support they gave (us) during the game. It was a very beautiful atmosphere. The connection between us and the fans is most important. They had good reason to be proud of the players."

Source: Yonhap News Agency