Tottenham's Son wins Asian Games and military service exemption

Son's two assists and a goal for 'The Korean Messi' gave South Korea their fifth title

Son Heung-min's reaction said it all.

Fists in the air, hugs for the manager, wild group celebrations.

South Korea hadn't just won the Asian Games final, they'd won exemption from compulsory military service.

The Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder helped his side defeat Japan 2-1 in extra-time.

Son Heung-min celebrates after South Korea clinched the Asian Games title in Jakarta.

Korean law states that men must complete 21 months of national military service before their 28th birthday.

But the country's athletes that win Asian Games titles or Olympic medals can skip the obligation, meaning the entire squad are now exempt.

26-year-old Son was instrumental in the victory assisting both goals by Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Hee-chan.

Ueda Ayase scored for Japan, but it wasn’t enough.

A narrow miss

If South Korea failed to beat Japan, the Spurs player would be facing a very different future.

Son would likely have been 30 years old before leaving the military.

The pressure-cooker victory means he will be able to see out his Premier League contract without fear of being called up to do national service.

South Korea's star missed out on the 2014 Asian Games win and the exemption, as his club at the time Bayer Leverkusen refused to let him travel.

A different story to Ki Sung-Yueng

Son has avoided the same fate as his fellow countryman Ki Sung Yueng.

The 29-year-old, who recently signed with Newcastle United, was made to serve in 2016.

The midfielder only had to do four weeks of his duty after winning bronze for South Korea at London 2012.

Ki Sung-Yeung playing for Newcastle United

Redemption for 'Korea's Messi'?

Son wasn't the only story of the day.

An intriguing sub-plot involves the player once known as the 'Korean Messi' at Barcelona's Academy La Masia.

At 12 years of age Lee Seung-woo moved to Barcelona as one of the most promising prodigies since a certain diminutive Argentine showed up from Rosario.

Lee began breaking Messi’s youth goalscoring records and finished as MVP and top scorer at the 2014 U16 Asian Championships.

'The Korean Messi' looked to be living up to the hype, but his Barca career was cut short when FIFA ruled that his transfer was illegal in 2014.

In 2017 Lee was sold to Italian club Hellas Verona for 1.5 million euros.

Lee Seung-woo reacts during the Asian Games 2018.


When the undisputed star of the team Son jinked his way into the box in extra-time with the score at 0-0 in the final, the only player on the pitch brave enough to take it off his toe was Lee.

He smashed a left-footed drive over the Japanese goalkeeper.

That goal set the stage for an emotional South Korean win.

Son may have grabbed the headlines, but Lee Seung-woo scored the most valuable goal of his career.

At twenty years of age, there may be much more to come from the forgotten 'Korean Messi'.

Lee Seung-Woo at the sending off ceremony for the South Korean team before the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 at Seoul City Hall.