S. Korea coach not yet planning alternatives for Son Heung-min’s potential World Cup absence

SEOUL– As South Korea’s captain Son Heung-min tries to work his way back from a facial surgery in time for the FIFA World Cup, his national team head coach Paulo Bento does not yet have a plan B in case of possible absence of his biggest offensive weapon.

Son is recovering from surgery on multiple fractures around his left eye, sustained in a collision with an opponent during a UEFA Champions League match on Nov. 1. Son had the procedure last Friday, 20 days before South Korea’s first Group H match at the World Cup, against Uruguay.
Son took to social media Wednesday to declare he will be ready to play with a protective mask on if that’s what it takes to represent the country.

If Son can’t start or even play in the opening group match on Nov. 24, it will leave a glaring hole on South Korea’s front line. But when asked about alternatives if Son isn’t available, Bento said he will cross that bridge when he gets there.

“I am not preparing (for a plan B). This is a far future. It’s not the moment (for such discussions),” Bento said during an online press conference Thursday, the eve of South Korea’s friendly against Iceland. “This is the kind of conversation for other people, not for me.”

Bento squashed any doubt that might have existed on Son’s selection for the World Cup in light of his injury. The coach said the discussion is never about whether Son will be picked or not — “Of course, he’s going to be selected,” Bento said — but about what the team can do to help him get ready for the tournament.

“We know it’s not an easy situation. It’s a situation that’s going to demand certain things and adaptations,” Bento added. “We should let him come and do what he should do. And after that, we have time to make the right decision and best decisions for all of us.”

Bento said Son has always been a driven and determined player when it comes to donning the South Korean colors.

“For us, it’s something normal from Sonny,” Bento said. “We already had other moments where he was injured and he wanted to play. So it’s not a surprise at all for us. We should let him recover as well as possible.”

Bento also has other injury issues to worry about. Defenders Kim Jin-su and Kim Moon-hwan, both of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the K League 1, reported to this training camp banged up. Bento said Kim Jin-su did not participate in any training session and he will not play Friday.

Kim has been one of South Korea’s top left fullbacks for years, but he missed out on the past two World Cups because of injuries he suffered just before those tournaments. The 30-year-old may suffer the same fate this time after hurting his right hamstring during the second leg of the FA Cup final on Oct. 30.

Kim pulled up lame with his hamstring injury around the half-hour mark of that match but stayed on to play the entire game.

“It’s not a surprise that he’s not well. He took a big risk, a risk that could make him lose the World Cup,” Bento said. “We’ll see what happens. I don’t have information about which day he will be available to have training with the team.”

Bento lashed out at Jeonbuk for playing the two defenders heavy minutes late in the season, even when they didn’t have a chance to win the K League title, and then criticized the Korea Football Association (KFA) for organizing the two-legged FA Cup final with little rest time in between matches.

“The clever guys and smart guys that organize the competition made the FA Cup finals with two legs. The gap between the end of the (first) game and the beginning of the other one was less than 72 hours,” Bento said, tongue firmly in cheek. “They should think that the players don’t need to rest. The most important is the money and the sponsors. And the national team is not the most important in Korea.

“But all of them want the national team to have a good performance in the World Cup that we must play,” Bento continued. “But they don’t help, and they don’t make things in the proper way in order to defend the players.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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