Son's arrival unable to inspire comeback win for South Korea

South Korea's Son Heung Min prepares to pass the ball during their men's soccer match between South Korea and Malaysia at the 18th Asian Games at Si Jalak Harupat Stadium in Bandung, Indonesia, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/ Achmad Ibrahim)

BANDUNG, Indonesia (AP) — Winning the gold medal at the Asian Games got a little more complicated for Tottenham forward Son Heung-min when his belated entry into the tournament for South Korea ended in an upset 2-1 loss to Malaysia.

Son arrived in Indonesia after helping Tottenham to a win over Newcastle in the Premier League last weekend and he missed South Korea's opening 6-0 win over Bahrain. He didn't start Friday's game against Malaysia and the defending champions were already trailing 2-0 when he finally went on in the 57th minute.

His previous appearance in a South Korea jersey was at the World Cup, where his late goal sealed an upset win over 2014 champion Germany in a dramatic group-stage finish.

He was unable to spark a comeback win at SI Jalak Harupat Stadium, an art deco-inspired 27,000-seat stadium set amid volcanic hills and tea plantations on the outskirts of Bandung, the capital of Indonesia's West Java province.

It's a four-hour drive southeast from Jakarta, and a long way from where Son probably should be at this stage of the season, but South Korea's highest-profile soccer player is on a mission.

A gold medal will exempt Son from 21 months of military service, an obligation he is otherwise expected to start within the next two years. That's the kind of national commitment that could hurt his playing career.

He's at the Asian Games as one of the three wildcard — or overage players — in the under-23 squads. And he's one of four members of South Korea's World Cup squad selected for the roster, along with Hwang Hee-chan, Lee Seung-woo and goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo.

Only one of them — Hwang — started against Malaysia.

South Korea coach Kim Hak-bum admitted he made a tactical blunder by rotating his players too early in the tournament.

"That was my mistake ... I regret that," Kim said through a translator. "Because of today's result we've got a difficult pathway to the finals. First place and second place in this group is quite different in the round of 16 ... but we'll get through."

Kim responded to question about Son's limited playing time by saying the star player had only been with the squad a couple of days and his fitness and condition had to be properly managed.

Safawi Rasid gave the Malaysians the lead with a fifth-minute strike and added his second with a shot that deflected in off the far post in first-half stoppage time.

Chants from the 4,125 crowd soon went up for Son to be put into action, and screams from the big South Korean cheering section signaled his arrival.

Son had some good touches but, after Hwang Ui-jo scored for South Korea in the 87th, he missed a chance to equalize in the last minute of regulation when he pushed a long-range free kick marginally too wide.

South Korea had more than two-thirds of the possession and took 14 shots to Malaysia's five but lacked finish in the front third and were exposed early in defense.

The 25-team tournament is not officially recognized by FIFA, but Tottenham allowed the 26-year-old Son to leave England after the 2-1 win at Newcastle.

Son missed South Korea's run to the Asian Games title in 2014 because he was not released by former club Bayer Leverkusen, adding to the pressure on him to win gold this time.

He said he'd warned the young squad when he arrived not to take any game for granted.

"I should have controlled the game better and helped the (young) players in their mind controls — I feel a big responsibility for that," Son said. "I should talk about such issue to the players, and I am sure the coach will also talk about the problem. But the most important thing is that the players themselves recognize the problem."

South Korea will round out the group stage against Kyrgyzstan on Monday and will need a big win to restore confidence ahead of the knockout stage.

Malaysia leads Group E with two wins and is three points clear of South Korea. Bahrain and Kyrgyzstan drew 2-2 to pick up their first points of the tournament.

The top two teams from each group and four best-performing third-placed teams advance to the round of 16.


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