JAKARTA: Son Heung-min took a step closer to the Asian Games gold that would spare him a career-threatening stint in military service Thursday, as South Korea reached the quarter-finals with a hard-fought win over Iran.
Defending champions South Korea defeated a physical Iran team 2-0 in a clash between two tournament heavyweights in Cikarang, just outside host city Jakarta, to set up another daunting clash with a highly rated Uzbekistan side.
Nothing less than gold at the regional Olympics will be enough to exempt Tottenham Hotspur forward Son, 26, from his 21-month compulsory military service — which could derail his career.
Japan-based striker Hwang Ui-jo opened the scoring in the 40th minute, calmly slotting in his fifth goal of the tournament from Hwang In-beom’s cut-back cross.
The Gamba Osaka attacker is, like Son, facing his last chance to avoid military service.
Lee Seong-woo, a 20-year-old striker brought into the starting lineup for the match, doubled the scoring after 55 minutes, deftly collecting a botched looping clearance before firing home from just outside the box.
After a quiet start, the game sprang to life in the 19th minute as both sides hit the woodwork, with Iran’s Mehdi Mehdikhani curling one shot onto the crossbar, before Hwang In-beom’s response at the other end clattered off the post.
Chances continued to appear at both ends, with Iran not cowed by South Korea’s stars.
Both sides committed players forward, with Iran’s 17-year-old Younes Delfi — linked with a move to PSV Eindhoven — a lively presence.
Son flashed a dangerous cross across the box just after the hour-mark, which Iran’s keeper scrambled to deflect away with his fingertips.
But the tournament’s star man had a quiet game overall, with his switch to the left flank in the second half failing to bear fruit.
Son is skipping Premier League action to play at the Asian Games in Indonesia.
He scored the only goal in Monday’s final group match against Kyrgyzstan to guarantee progress to knockouts.
Iran were left to rue topping their preliminary group, which ensured they played South Korea who finished second after a shock loss to Malaysia.
South Korea’s next opponents, Uzbekistan, who breezed past Hong Kong 3-0, have yet to concede in the tournament.