Tottenham's Son Heung-min one win away from military exemption

Tottenham Hotspur star leads South Korea into 2018 Asian Games final

By Sven Busch

Son Heung-min's hopes of avoiding compulsory military service have increased after he captained South Korea to a 3-1 victory over Vietnam in the Asian Games semi-finals.

The Tottenham Hotspur star is now just one game away from bypassing national duty. But South Korea must win the final against Japan.

A double from Lee Seungwoo and one more from Jo Hwang-Ui secured victory for the Taeguk Warriors in Indonesia.

Under South Korean law all able-bodied men are required to undertake 21-months military service before their 28th birthday.

However exemption is granted to all Olympic medallists and Asian Games champions.

At 26 years of age, the 2018 Asian Games presents Son’s second-last, and best, chance of avoiding service.

The final chance will be at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where the field of competition is far superior.

Son Heung-min celebrates a goal

End of a top-tier career?

After his time in the military, Son would be 30 and after such a long footballing layoff, could struggle to find a top European club willing to gamble on signing him.

Former national team head coach Choi Kang-Hee revealed that the country is hopeful their captain will be offered exemption.

"It's important that Son Heung-min receives a gold medal," Coach Choi told South Korean website Sports Donga. “I see that all Korean citizens want Son's exemption.”

Footballers in the Korean military are typically given desk jobs and are allowed to play for a second division team.

Son would not be allowed a role as an active serviceman as he dropped out of high school at 16 to pursue his football career.

Missed opportunities for Son Heung-Min

In 2014 Son was part of the South Korea team that finished bottom of their World Cup group in Brazil.

To add insult to injury, a few months later his compatriots won gold at the 2014 Asian Games on home turf, earning military exemption in the process.

But Son was not at the tournament as Bundesliga team Bayern Leverkusen refused to release him from club duty.

Two years later he was selected as an overage player at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The forward scored two goals as South Korea topped their group in a promising start.

But the joy was short-lived as the Asian nation was dumped out by Honduras in the quarter-finals.

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Son and his compatriots were once again eliminated in the group stages.

Tottenham Hotspur were more lenient than Leverkusen in their policy of releasing Son for international duty - and quickly tweeted their congratulations.

The final

Son will be the only player on the field who plies his trade in one of Europe's top leagues, and South Korea will undoubtedly be the favourites for gold.

But South Korea have already had a shock, as they gingerly tip-toed around Uzbekistan with a 4-3 extra time win in the quarter finals.