May 23, 2018 / 3:02 PM / 6 months ago

South Korea's favorite Son looks to light up World Cup

SEOUL (Reuters) - Son Heung-min is well on his way to carving out as successful a club career in England as Park Ji-sung did at Manchester United but the free-scoring Spurs forward must now deliver at the World Cup if he is to become one of South Korea’s all-time greats.

South Korea men's national football team player Son Heung-min attends their inaugural ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Son scored 18 goals in all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur this season, playing a key role in the London club’s march to the Champions League last 16, FA Cup semi-finals and a third-place finish in the Premier League.

His positional awareness and explosive pace gives Spurs a real threat from the left wing, and the decision to spend around 22 million pounds ($30.78 million) to sign him from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 looks like money incredibly well spent.

On the international stage, however, Son does not have such an illustrious cast to work with and is typically marked heavily by opposition defenses, forcing him to come deeper and deeper in search of the ball.

Son, who has also been deployed as a lone striker for the national team on several occasions, can drift in and out of games when South Korea are starved of possession, struggling to make an impact on the periphery.

He has a decent international scoring record, claiming 20 goals from 61 appearances, but does not exert the same kind of influence on games as Park, whose lung-busting runs up and down the flanks offered both attacking opportunities and defensive stability for the Koreans at three World Cups.

Son enjoyed his first taste of the World Cup four years ago in Brazil, scoring in a 4-2 defeat to Algeria as South Korea limped out in the first round, and will be determined to help restore their reputation with a good showing in Russia.

He may have another reason for wanting the world to remember his name this summer: the 25-year-old has yet to complete his mandatory 21 months in the South Korean military, an obligation he must begin before he is 27, according to Korean law.

($1 = 0.7148 pounds)

Editing by Toby Davis

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