Son Heung Min, other South Korean stars add excitement to Asian Cup: top organiser

SEOUL: In their bid to end a 64-year title drought at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup starting this week, South Korea will take a talent-laden squad to the host country, Qatar.

Leading the charge will be captain Son Heung Min, who also wears the armband for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.

He's joined by fellow Premier Leaguer Hwang Hee Chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Bayern Munich defender Kim Min Jae and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang In.

The presence of these stars makes South Korea a favourite, but such players also bring excitement to the 18th edition of the Asian Cup as a whole, Yonhap news agency quoted the tournament's top organiser.

"Son is not only one of the biggest stars in Asia. He's one of the biggest stars in the world," Jassim Al Jassim, CEO of the Asian Cup organising committee, said in an online interview with Yonhap recently.

"This helps us a lot, of course, during the tournament. The likes of Son and other international players that are playing in Europe that will come to Qatar to play will for sure give some kind of taste to those who will attend the matches in Qatar."

Al Jassim hailed Son's leadership at Spurs, saying the South Korean talisman "stood up and took that role of being a captain" after star forward Harry Kane left for Bayern over the summer. Son is (scoring position) with 12 goals this season, already two more goals than he had all of last season.

Al Jassim also reeled off the names of Kim, Hwang and Lee, citing their strong seasons with their respective European clubs and pointing out how they can raise the level of competition at the AFC tournament.

"I think, technically speaking, we will have one of the best Asian Cups ever, with the technical capabilities and how strong the Asian teams are at their peak.

"I think decades before, there was a big gap between Asian teams and European teams. We have seen that decrease a lot," he said.

Al Jassim pointed to some stunning results from Asian teams at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which was also hosted by Qatar.

"I think a lot of the Asian teams and Asian players are up to that level and in a lot of cases even more so.

"From a technical perspective, for sure, we will have a very, very strong tournament with very good players," Al Jassim said.

Al Jassim listed Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Qatar, the defending champions, as other title contenders. He said Qatar will be ready to serve as their host.

"All we can do from a local organising committee is to make sure they have everything available for them to play the best football ever, to have the best stadiums that they will play and to make sure that we give them the best atmosphere to play football as well," he said.

China was the original host of this edition of the Asian Cup, scheduled for June 16 to July 16, 2023. In May 2022, however, the AFC announced that China would not be able to host the competition due to Covid-19.

Five months later, Qatar was named the new host, beating out South Korea to become the first country to host three Asian Cups. --BERNAMA-YONHAP

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