Asian Games 2018: Son Heung-min leads Korea Republic to gold

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Son Heung-min has achieved what he went to Asian Games 2018 for by helping Korea Republic win the gold medal on Saturday with a 2-1 extra-time win over Japan in the final.

After failing to find a way past their resilient opponents throughout the 90 minutes at the Pakansari Stadium, it took Korea Republic just three minutes of extra-time to break the deadlock through a Lee Seung-woo rocket before Hwang Hee-chan sealed the victory eight minutes after, with Tottenham star Son providing both assists.

Japan did manage to pull one back in the 115th minute courtesy of an Ayase Ueda header to set up a grandstand finish, although they were just unable to find the equaliser to send the final to penalties.

Son, along with the other 19 members of the squad, will now be exempted from his mandatory national service commitments, paving the way for him to continue his career at Tottenham with no disruption.

Given the considerable experience the South Koreans had in their side, as compared to a Japan outfit building towards the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and with no player above the age of 21 in their squad, it was perhaps no surprise that they largely dominated proceedings from the opening whistle.

Tournament top scorer Hwang Ui-jo โ€“ with nine goals to his name ahead of Saturdayโ€™s final โ€“ had the first real chance after four minutes but failed to connect at the far post with the goal gaping, after Hwang In-beom had slid a pass across the face of goal.

Hwang Ui-jo threatened again in the 22nd minute when he raced onto Sonโ€™s clever flick over the top and cut inside Teruki Hara, only to be denied by Ryosuke Kojima.

Japan did threaten on the occasions when they were able to string an attack together and Koji Miyoshi came close two minutes before the half-hour, gliding past two defenders to make his way into the box but South Korean goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo was alert to parry his powerful drive.

Cho produces a smart reflex save to deny Miyoshi.

Still, it always looked like Korea Republic would be the likelier of the two sides to break the deadlock and Hwang Hee-chan created a good opening in the 64th minute when he burst down the right and whipped a cross the near post.

However, the usually-prolific Hwang โ€“ having done well to get in ahead of his marker โ€“ failed to direct his shot on target.

Ueda tries his best to get Japan going in attack.

The game eventually went in to extra-time after just a minute after the restart, Son looked to have spurned his chance for glory when he was gifted possession by Teruki Hara and headed straight towards goal but screwed his shot wide of the far post.

But, just two minutes later, the deadlock was finally broken when Son found space inside the area and skipped inside a defender before Lee reacted ahead of him to lash a left-footed drive into the roof of the net.

And, in the 101st minute, it was job done for the South Koreans with Son once again weighing with a crucial contribution, floating a freekick to the far post for Hwang Hee-chan to meet with a towering header past Kojimaโ€™s despairing dive.

Japan did manage to pull one back with five minutes remaining when Ueda was somehow left unmarked in the six-yard box to head home Yuta Kamiyaโ€™s corner.

Nonetheless, it proved to be a mere consolation as Korea Republic were able to hold out for the remainder of the contest to claim a second consecutive Asian Games gold medal in the process.

KOREA REPUBLIC: Cho Hyun-woo, Kim Moon-hwan, Cho Yu-min, Kim Min-jae, Kim Jin-ya, Lee Jin-hyun (Jang Yun-ho 88โ€™), Kim Jung-min (Lee Seung-woo 57โ€™), Hwang Hee-chan, Hwang In-beom, Son Heung-min (Na Sang-ho 120+3′), Hwang Ui-jo (Hwang Hyun-soo 118โ€™).

JAPAN: Ryosuke Kojima, Teruki Hara, Yugo Tatsuta, Ko Itakura, Yoichi Naganuma (Ryo Hatsuse 99โ€™), Kota Watanabe (Yuta Kamiya 109โ€™), Taishi Matsumoto, Daiki Sugioka (Keita Endo 91โ€™), Koji Miyoshi, Yuto Iwasaki (Reo Hatate 106โ€™), Ayase Ueda.

Photo credit: Asian Games 2018