SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Son Heung-min’s goal drought this season has extended to eight games for Tottenham, heightening worries back in Seoul over the form of the South Korean star just months out from the World Cup.
Son won the Premier League’s 2021-22 Golden Boot, the prize given to the leading scorer in England’s top-flight competition, but he’s yet to score this season.
And South Korean media is paying increasing attention to Son’s form ahead of the country’s 10th successive appearance at soccer’s marquee tournament.
National team coach Paulo Bento dismissed concerns when he included Son in his roster for next week’s warmup games against Costa Rica and Cameroon.
“There is no concern and I feel the same as when he’s scoring a lot,” Bento said, adding that he doesn’t plan to discuss the issue with his captain. “We will focus on what we must do in these two games and I have all the confidence in him as usual.”
Son is not the only Korean forward experiencing form or selection difficulties. Hwang Hee-chan has been struggling for minutes on the field for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League, and Hwang Ui-jo is also yet to score this season either for Bordeaux or for his new club Olympiakos.
Asia’s other representatives at the World Cup — Japan, Iran, Australia, Saudi Arabia and host Qatar — are also busy in the international break. Japan and Saudi Arabia will each face the United States and Ecuador next week.
The Japanese team, grouped at the World Cup with Germany, Costa Rica and Spain, was rocked by the news on Monday that Ko Itakura injured his knee while training with the top tier German club Borussia Monchengladbach. The central defender is unlikely to return before November.
More encouraging for coach Hajime Moriyasu is winger Kaoru Mitoma’s start to his first Premier League season for Brighton.
“I could take the first step and show a glimpse of what sort of player I am to the supporters,” Mitoma said. “I could also show a bit to the head coach that I can do the job. It’ll be about how much I can produce and I feel I need to do that when I’m given longer playing time.”
Saudi Arabia’s match against the United States is the second of its six warmups before its opening Group C game with Argentina and subsequent games against Poland and Mexico.
Host Qatar is also preparing for a first ever World Cup appearance and a group with Netherlands, Ecuador and Senegal. The Qataris will takes on Canada on Sept. 23 in Vienna and then Chile four days later. Australia will play home and away games against New Zealand.
Iran, which will face England, the U.S. and Wales in Group B, appointed Carlos Queiroz to another stint as head coach earlier this month. The Portuguese tactician led the team to the 2014 and 2018 World Cups and his first action in his second spell will be warmup tests against Uruguay and Senegal in Austria.
“When the family call you home, all you do is simply just show up,” Queiroz wrote on social media on Tuesday. Iran has appeared at five previous World Cups but is yet to make it past the group stage.
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