His goal helped knock Germany out of the World Cup, but for Son Heung-min the Asian Games could have a greater impact. The South Korean forward must lead his country to victory to earn a reprieve from military service.One of three nominated overage players in his country’s squad for the under-23 tournament, Son laid on two goals for hat trick hero Hwang Ui-jo on Monday before a late penalty sent the Koreans through to the semifinals with a 4-3 extra time win over Uzbekistan.
The 26-year-old also scored the second as South Korea confirmed Germany’s early exit from Russia 2018 and started his career in Germany’s Bundesliga with Hamburg, before moving to Bayer Leverkusen in 2013. He now plys his trade for English Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur, having joined the London club in 2015.
Read more: Can the Bundesliga make it big in South Asia?
South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 must perform two years compulsary military service unless granted an exemption, something Son has not yet done. Despite the Asian Games not being an official FIFA-registered competition, gold at the tournament will earn Son just such an exemption, as would Olympic gold or other significant sporting achievements with national teams. That’s the reason Tottenham, who were not obliged to release the forward, have allowed Son to miss up to three early Premier League fixtures in order to captain his country in Indonesia.
South Korea were among the pre-tournament favorites and, as Asia’s all-time Premier League top-scorer and a huge celebrity in his homeland, Son is a huge draw for fans. His country won the last edition, beating North Korea in a tense final, but Leverkusen refused to release Son.
“I can’t say I’m 100 percent sure to win the gold medal. We are on the way to make something, and to win some trophies,” Son said ahead of Monday’s quarterfinal win.
Should South Korea fail to win gold, Son could expect to receive a military call up in the next 18 months, in the prime of his footballing career, meaning another chance to sidestep service is unlikely.
Should the attacker fulfill his military service, he will be paid 310,000 won ($275, €235) per month and could be assigned a range of duties, from riding tanks to standing patrol at the heavily fortified border with North Korea – with whom the South remains technically at war.
While most top South Korean footballers can spend their service playing for the K-League’s military side Sangju Sangmu, Son is not eligible as he has never appeared in the domestic league. South Korea face Vietnam in the last four on Wednesday and the winner will play Japan or the United Arab Emirates in the final on Saturday.