South Korea star striker Son Heung-min is sure to be the first name on coach Shin Tae-yong’s teamsheet for the opening game against Sweden on June 18.
The South Korea manager has made no secret of making it his mission to build his team around the 25-year-old who has set the Premier League alight in recent seasons with Tottenham Hotspur, thanks to his skills with either foot, blistering pace and finishing prowess.
Son is more familiar than most Asian players with Europe as he moved to German club Hamburg when he was just 15 and made his senior Bundesliga debut two years later. Such was his impact that Bayer Leverkusen shelled out a club record €10 million for him in 2013, gaining vital experience in the Europa League and Champions League.
But it was not until he moved to Spurs two years later for £22 million that he really made people notice just what he had to offer, playing alongside England stars Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
He has been a member of the South Korea national team since 2010 and has now established himself as the main man for Shin, with 20 goals in 63 matches. He was singled out for praise after Korea’s disappointing group-stage exit from the 2014 World Cup, and he went on to help them reach the final of the Asian Cup the following year, where they were beaten by hosts Australia.
Despite his apparent comfort in front of goal on the field, Son recently admitted he feels cautious rather than confident about the 2018 World Cup.
He scored 18 goals for Tottenham this past season and is the Asian Football Confederation’s International Player of the Year.
However, he has shown he has a softer side, too. “In my first World Cup in 2014, I had big expectations and confidence, but for this year’s World Cup, I feel cautious and actually have some concerns,” Son said.
“I learnt from my previous experience that confidence doesn’t always bring success at the World Cup. I hope many players can recognise this.”
South Korea are considered the weakest team in Group F that includes Sweden, Mexico and defending champions, Germany.
“I think if we can just pass the group stage, that will be a success,” Son added.
With such stiff opposition standing in their way, it certainly would be a success. And Son just might be the man to deliver.
Profile: Son Heung-min, South Korea
• Date of birth: July 8, 1992
• Age: 25
• Club: Tottenham Hotspur
• Caps: 63
• Goals: 20