Heung-min Son ‘knows risks’ of playing after facial injury, says South Korea boss ahead of World Cup kick-off

Heung-min Son ‘knows risks’ of playing after facial injury, says South Korea boss ahead of World Cup kick-off

Heung-min Son is aware of the risks of playing for South Korea against Uruguay shortly after undergoing facial surgery, according to their head coach, Paulo Bento.

Son is set to start his country’s opening World Cup match wearing a protective mask, following surgery to stabilise a fracture around his eye, an injury which ruled him out of Tottenham’s final three games before the tournament break.

The forward has trained in a mask since joining up with the national team here in Qatar, but it was unclear on Wednesday if he would be ready to start at Education City Stadium.

Jung Woo-young, the midfielder who plays his football in Qatar, was a surprise choice ahead of Son at this morning’s pre-match press conference, with most nations having selected their captain to join the manager at briefings on the eve of their opening game.

But Bento said: “Sonny will be able to play. I think the fact that he will be wearing a mask will not be an inconvenience for him, it’s feels natural for him.

“We will see tomorrow how it will be. Our hope is that he will feel comfortable to the greatest extent possible, and we will use the best strategies so that he can feel at ease. But he knows and we know that after this injury we cannot rule out any risk.”

Son’s fitness will be key to South Korea’s hopes of progressing from a tough group, also including Bento’s native Portugal and Ghana.

The 30-year-old, who won the Premier League’s Golden Boot last season, goes into the tournament having scored in just two Spurs League fixtures this term, and carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.

Bento, though, was eager to play down the pressure on any of his players in the nation’s 10th consecutive World Cup, insisting they should not be expected to reach the knockouts, given their history.

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“During the history of the World Cup, South Korea was only able to twice go beyond the group stage, and one was when they were hosts with Japan,” he said. “Our objectives here must be to play each match at a time, play in the best manner possible, let the players be themselves.

“I don’t see any reason for them to have any pressure on their shoulders. If this was a team regularly going onto the next stage, yes, I would say it has to continue happening, but I do not believe this is a burden we have.”

There will be more expectation on Uruguay, who will start with Son’s Spurs team-mate Rodrigo Bentancur in midfield, but Bento picked out another of their players, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, for surprising high praise.

“Together with [Kevin] De Bruyne, I think he’s one of the best two midfielders in the world,” Bento said of Valverde.