By Jack Tarrant
CIKARANG, Indonesia, Aug 23 (Reuters) – Son Heung-min’s South Korea defeated Iran 2-0 on Thursday to progress to the Asian Games quarter-finals in Cikarang, near Jakarta.
Son himself was kept quiet by Iran, who have won the tournament four times, but goals from Hwang Ui Jo and Lee Seungwoo secured South Korea’s safe passage to the last eight.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward, one of the over-age players in the nominally Under-23 competition, may need South Korea to win the gold medal in Indonesia if he is to be exempt from two years national service.
Son was a constant presence in the game, encouraging his young team and berating the referee over perceived harsh treatment, yet was often left frustrated as his team mates failed to pick him out in attacking areas.
With five minutes remaining of the first half in which both sides hit the woodwork, Hwang Inbeom broke into the Iran area before squaring for Hwang Ui Jo to sidefoot home.
Lee, who provided an energetic presence on the opposite wing to Son, wrapped up the victory on 55 minutes with a fine finish at the end of a mazy run across the Iran penalty area.
“Every round of 16 team can win the tournament so I think we are strong enough, Iran is also strong but I think what is important is the mentality,” Son told reporters.
“The pressure was there but I think we believed more than Iran.”
While Son is in Jakarta, his club Tottenham have started their Premier League campaign with two wins.
If South Korea reach the gold medal match on Sept. 1, Son will not be able to return to Premier League action until their game against Liverpool on Sept. 15.
“As I have already said, I feel very sorry but this tournament, for me, is very important because of my country,” Son said.
All able bodied South Korean men must complete 21 months service in the military as a deterrent against the North, but exemptions are offered to athletes who win gold at the Asian Games or a medal of any colour at the Olympics.
Syria, Uzbekistan and Vietnam have also qualified for the quarter-finals.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Ed Osmond)