Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min is facing the prospect of a 21-month military service stint unless South Korea prevail at the Asian Games.
The Koreans advanced to the knock-out stages of the competition as Son scored the only goal in their 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan, but will face the highest-ranked team in Asia, Iran, for a place in the quarter-finals.
The 26-year-old joined Spurs from Hamburg for €30m three years ago and has become an integral part of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, but faces the possibility of missing the best part of two years of his career due to conscription.
The tournament is Son’s last chance to earn an exemption from South Korea’s mandatory military duty, which states that all fit and able men in the country are required to serve a minimum of 21 months of military service.
Exemptions are applied for extraordinary sporting achievements, and a gold medal at the Asian Games is usually considered one of these.
What adds to the challenge for Son and his team-mates is that similar to the Olympics, squads at the Asian Games must consist of players under the age of 23, although each nation can select three players of any age as “wildcards”, of which Son is one.
South Korea find themselves on the tougher side of the draw. Should they prevail, they are likely to face a fancied Uzbekistan for a place in the last four.
“The Iran team are very strong. We need to prepare very well,” he said.
“Iran and another strong team Uzbekistan could both be the champion for this tournament,” Son added. “We all have the chance to get the gold medal.”