Soccer  

All eyes will be on Son Heung-Min but South Korea need more than a one-man show to go far at the FIFA World Cup

It is the greatest stage in all of world football — and he is one of the sport’s premier players at the moment.

Naturally, all eyes will be on Son Heung-Min whenever South Korea take to the field at the upcoming FIFA World Cup.

And it would be naïve to think that the Taegeuk Warriors do not need him to be at the top of his game if they are to qualify from a Group H that also includes Portugal, Uruguay and Ghana to reach the Round of 16.

– 2022 World Cup: All squad lists for Qatar
– World Cup team previews: Group H – Portugual, Uruguay, Ghana, South Korea

After all, this is a man that has reached the peak of his powers in the past couple of years, winning the Premier League’s top scorer award last season and establishing himself as the only Asian player that can lay claim to world-class status at the moment.

But for South Korea to achieve all that they want to over the next few weeks in Qatar, they cannot afford to be a one-man team.

If anything, Son’s season so far has proved just that.

Following the lofty standards he set for himself last term, Son has thus far failed to replicate his form in the 2022-23 season.

His effort can never be questioned and he is still working hard to bring his teammates into the game. But, from an output perspective, a five-goal haul from 19 games for Tottenham is well below his average.

Not that is has really bothered Spurs manager Antonio Conte, who has stood by his star attacker and backed him to eventually come good.

Then came a nasty injury where Son suffered a facial fracture and needed surgery, which has ruled him out of action the start of November.

The 30-year-old has regularly reiterated that he will be present for South Korea’s World Cup quest and, earlier in the week, he took to the training pitch wearing a protective face mask.

All signs suggest that could be available for the Taegeuk Warriors’ World Cup opener against Uruguay on Nov. 24 but there is also a chance he might not be at 100 percent.

Which further strengthens the notion that the South Koreans can ill afford to put all their eggs in the Son basket.

So who else can South Korea coach Paulo Bento turn to for inspiration then?

As another South Korean plying his trade in the Premier League, Wolves man Hwang Hee-Chan is the first alternative that comes to mind — but he too has not been in the best of form so far this season.

Hwang Ui-Jo offers a focal point in attack that Son normally thrives working off but is not exactly the kind of player who can singlehandedly influence a contest, while Lee Jae-Sung — playing for Bundesliga outfit Mainz — has creative ability but is yet to prove he can deliver at the highest level.

Then, there are also the rising stars in Lee Kang-In and Jeong Woo-Yeong. Both have talent in abundance and could easily use the World Cup to announce their arrival, but to expect them to play a leading role at such a tender age would be a big ask.

Yet, there is quality at Bento’s disposal even if none of them may be at Son’s level. And maybe they do not need to be.

A half-fit Son, with a capable supporting cast, could still be as good as a fully-fit Son.

Interestingly, when South Korea produced their best World Cup performance with a fourth-place finish in 2002, there were hardly any star names in that side in that particular moment.

Park Ji-Sung and Lee Young-Pyo had yet to join PSV Eindhoven, let alone move on to the Premier League, Ahn Jung-Hwan — who infamously got sacked by Italian club Perugia after his goal eliminated –would hardly have been labelled a ‘world-class’ talent, and even legendary captain Hong Myung-Bo was already at the end of his career even if he went on to win the Bronze Ball at the tournament.

That Taegeuk Warriors side got as far as they did simply by performing their roles and playing as a team.

And perhaps for the class of 2022, that is exactly the formula that will work — even with a standout talent like Son to call upon.