SPORTS

Korean footballers in Europe gear up for new season

By Yonhap
  • Published : Aug 10, 2017 - 17:12
  • Updated : Aug 11, 2017 - 11:59

Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min will once again try to lead the way for South Korean footballers in Europe as they gear up for the new season.

Son will try to outdo himself in the 2017-2018 season after enjoying his most successful English Premier League stint since he signed with the Spurs in 2015. In the EPL, he bagged 14 goals, 13th best in the league, in addition to six assists. Overall, he netted 21 goals in all competitions during the 2016-2017 season to set a new single-season scoring record for a South Korean in Europe. Cha Bum-kun, who had 19 goals for the German outfit Bayer Leverkusen in the 1985-1986 season, had the previous honor.

Son was also named the Premier League's Player of the Month twice, and the Spurs finished second in the 20-team league.

For this season, the 25-year-old will need some time to find his form as he broke his forearm during South Korea's World Cup qualifier against Qatar in June and missed all preseason matches.

In this photo taken by the Associated Press on May 26, 2017, Tottenham Hotspur's South Korean attacker Son Heung-min celebrates after scoring a goal during a friendly match against Kitchee Sports Club in Hong Kong. (Yonhap)
Son did join the team training last week without a cast, but it is still uncertain whether he will be perfectly fit to start in the Spurs' season opener against Newcastle United on Saturday.

Last season, Son had a tough schedule meeting both club and international duties. For South Korea, he played at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics and traveled around Asian countries for the World Cup qualifiers.

Son will have to manage his fitness for this season as well, since South Korea still have two more matches left in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Taeguk Warriors are barely holding on to the final automatic qualification spot with 13 points, sitting just one point up from Uzbekistan in Group A. In Asia, the top two teams from Groups A and B can advance directly to the World Cup in Russia. The two third-place teams must go through a playoff for their final chance. South Korea are scheduled to host already qualified Iran on Aug. 31 and face Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Sept. 5 for the finale.

If South Korea finish third in the group, Son may have to serve his country until November. The third place team in Group A will have to play a home-and-away series with the No. 3 team in Group B in October and the winner of that match then have to take on the fourth-place team from the final round of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football qualifiers in a two-legged inter-confederation playoff to book a spot at the World Cup in Russia.

Son last season mainly started as left winger, but also played as striker when the team's main goalpoacher Harry Kane was injured. This season, he is likely to play left wing, and will try to score more goals in the league. Although Son did break Cha's single-season scoring record, he had fewer goals in the league with 14. Cha had 17 goals in the 1985-86 season.

Other South Korean Premier Leaguers -- Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City and Lee Chung-yong of Crystal Palace -- are likely to have tougher starts than Son.

Ki went under the knife last month to remove inflammation in his right knee. Swansea recently announced the 28-year-old midfielder should be back in action by mid-September.

Lee was excluded from his club's preseason tour in Asia last month due to a thigh injury. He featured in a friendly match against Schalke 04 on Saturday, but still needs to overcome fierce competition at his position. The 29-year-old winger played only 464 minutes in 15 league matches last season and had no goals.
In this file photo taken on July 25, 2017, Swansea City's South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yueng enters Incheon International Airport in Incheon to take a flight to London. (Yonhap)
In Germany, South Korean duo Koo Ja-cheol and Ji Dong-won will remain starters for FC Augsburg.

Koo missed time toward the end of last season due to a knee injury. The 28-year-old has recovered and recently scored a goal against Southampton in a preseason match.

Ji played all German Bundesliga matches last season, although he scored only three goals. The versatile forward is currently recovering from an ankle injury that he picked up during team training, but will likely be fit for Augsburg's league opener against Hamburger SV on Aug. 19.

Borussia Dortmund left back Park Joo-ho is expected to have another futile season unless he finds a new club. The 30-year-old only featured in two matches in the league last season, and didn't even play a single match after the calendar turned to 2017 even though he had no injuries.

Elsewhere, Suk Hyun-jun is also likely to have a difficult time with FC Porto. The striker failed to earn his spot with the Portuguese giants last season and was loaned to Turkish side Trabzonspor and Hungarian club Debrecen. He returned to Porto after unsuccessful loan spells but has yet to receive a jersey number for the new season.

FC Red Bull Salzburg striker Hwang Hee-chan and Dijon FCO midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon already have started new seasons with their respective clubs.

Hwang, 21, is currently in hot form, scoring five goals in eight matches. He has bagged two goals apiece in the UEFA Champions League qualification round and the Austrian Bundesliga, and also notched a goal in a domestic cup competition.

Kwon played full-time in Dijon's league opener against Marseille on Sunday although his side fell 3-0. The 23-year-old joined the French Ligue 1 club in January. (Yonhap)