Son says S. Korea given 'wake-up call' after laboring into last 16

By AFP   January 25, 2024 | 03:31 pm PT
Son Heung-min said South Korea had been given "a big wake-up call" after toiling into the Asian Cup knockout rounds with a madcap 3-3 draw against Malaysia on Thursday.

The Koreans conceded a 105th-minute equalizer against the world's 130th-ranked team in Doha to advance as Group E runners-up, avoiding a last-16 showdown with pre-tournament favorites Japan.

Instead they will play the winner of Group F, which Saudi Arabia currently lead ahead of Thailand.

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son said the Koreans would "be ready for any team" after being made to work hard in a group stage that also saw them draw with Jordan.

"When you go into a tournament there are no favorites -- there are always underdogs that catch you out," said the skipper.

"It was a big wake-up call to make us even stronger going into the knockout stage."

Forward Son Heung-min thanks fans after South Koreas 3-3 draw with Malaysia 3-3 in group E last round game at Asian Cup 2023 in Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, Qatar, Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by AP

Forward Son Heung-min thanks fans after South Korea's 3-3 draw with Malaysia 3-3 in group E last round game at Asian Cup 2023 in Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, Qatar, Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by AP

Bahrain topped Group E and will face Japan after a 1-0 win over Jordan, who also went through to the last 16.

Jeong Woo-yeong gave the Koreans the lead in the 21st minute, only for Malaysia to come roaring back with two goals early in the second half from Faisal Halim and Arif Aiman, the latter from the spot.

Some of the Malaysian fans were in tears as they contemplated a famous win.

But Paris Saint-Germain's Lee Kang-in forced an equalising own goal from Malaysia's goalkeeper with a sublime free-kick in the 83rd minute to make it 2-2.

Son thought he had won it for the Koreans when he scored a penalty four minutes into injury time.

But even though Malaysia's tournament was already over before the match, a heroic effort was rewarded at the death when Romel Morales pounced deep into injury time.

Son said South Korea would learn their lesson as they look to win the Asian Cup for the first time in 64 years.

"If you want to win this tournament you have to be ready for the big teams," he said.

"We will be ready for any team. It's a reality that we have to face a big team and you have to beat them."

'Tasted the top level'

South Korea coach Jurgen Klinsmann has seen his team let in six goals over the course of three first-round matches.

But the German legend said "the group stage is done and now the tournament really starts".

"When you control the game like this, it always happens that if you don't get another goal to make some distance, you might get punished in the last minute," said Klinsmann.

"This is what happened. I think we can do better."

Klinsmann said South Korea are "definitely" capable of winning the title.

He welcomed back Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan, who started on the bench after missing the first two games through injury.

Malaysia's coach Kim Pan-gon said he had found it "difficult to motivate the players" before the game, given they were already effectively out.

But he had challenged them to test themselves against South Korea's Europe-based stars, and was rewarded with "an amazing performance".

"The Korean national team were top quality, they dominated," said Kim, himself a South Korean.

"We tasted the top level in Asia. We learned the smell, taste, feel of the top level in Asia."

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