My focus was only on helping Korea Republic win, not avenge 2015 defeat

Son Heung-min insisted his determination to defeat Australia was motivated by the desire to keep Korea Republic’s hopes of lifting the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ alive and not to avenge the Taeguk Warriors’ heart-breaking loss to the Socceroos in the 2015 final.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward was instrumental in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side advancing to a last four meeting with Jordan, winning the penalty that allowed Hwang Hee-chan to score an injury time equaliser before hitting a sweetly-struck free-kick in extra-time that sealed the 2-1 victory.

The win came almost nine years to the day since Korea Republic lost to the Australians in the 2015 final in Sydney, when Son scored in injury time to take that game into an additional 30 minutes only for James Troisi to hit the winner as Ange Postecoglou’s side were crowned champions.

“I wouldn’t call it revenge,” Son said. “But, yes, 2015 was painful, it really did hurt. We had a very good chance that day and I was one of the players who was really disappointed with the result.

“But it’s part of football, those experiences really helped me mature as a person and as a football player and that’s what brought me along the way.

“Today wasn’t about the last game in 2015, it was about my goal in this tournament and our goal as a team. That was all that was in my head and I’m just happy that we’re one step closer to achieving our goal.”

That defeat at Stadium Australia further extended the country’s drought in the competition, with a loss to Qatar in the quarter-finals in the United Arab Emirates in 2019 meaning it is now 64 years since the continental title was claimed by the Koreans.

Klinsmann’s side have been grinding out results during the current Finals, with injury time goals against Jordan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia playing a vital role in their progress to the last eight before Hwang’s spot-kick took Friday’s match into extra-time.

Their refusal to die has seen Son and his teammates nicknamed the ‘Zombie Team’ by fans in Korea, but the 31-year-old insists the challenges the players are facing have enhanced the unity within the squad.

“The most important thing is we get the result,” he said. “Whatever name you want to put on it is not important. The thing I can say with assurance is that this is only making us stay together even stronger.

“Playing 120 minutes, it’s difficult, it’s not easy but the spirit the boys are showing is making us stick together and I can say with confidence that our strength is that we’re one team.

“We’re all together in this. That’s what’s really important, the spirit that we’re showing and that’s what people need to focus on.”

While exhaustion could become a factor for a side that has played extra-time in back-to-back games, Son is confident he and his teammates can overcome the issue with the correct psychological approach.

“Ever since becoming a footballer I think that it’s the first time I’ve played two matches in a row of 120 minutes, but it’s not as bad as it might seem,” he said.

“It’s more about the mentality and what you think in your head. But now I’m playing for the country, now I belong to the country and there shouldn’t be any excuse.

“After tomorrow there’s only going to be four teams left in Doha. And of the four teams only one team is going to lift the trophy. I want to fight for that trophy. Tiredness, fatigue, there should be no excuse. We’re going to go forward to win the trophy, to bring it back home.”

BY: Nadeem Faisal Baiga