South Korean mascot Son masked and muffled the opening match of the World Cup
DOHA: Son Heung-min was all around the Education City stadium as South Korean fans draped his jersey with a giant hole in his face, but on the pitch their mascot was a subdued figure in Thursday’s World Cup match with Uruguay.
All the talk among South Korean fans in the run-up to their opening match in Qatar was about the fate of star striker Son. will he play Can he play? Was he fit?
The Korean captain, who has scored 35 goals in more than 100 appearances for his country, suffered a severe collision while playing for Tottenham in the Champions League at the beginning of November.
The 30-year-old sustained fractures around his left eye that required surgery.
Son had confirmed the South Korean fans’ concern that he would play in the World Cup and, three weeks later, he led his country to the biggest stage ever.
Son was training in Doha with a glossy black mask to protect the cut and was out with him from the moment he warmed up against Uruguay.
South Korean fans know their superstar – who last season shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah – is crucial if they are to exit the group stage for the first time since 2010.
His number seven red jersey was everywhere among the South Korean fans in the stadium. Some had the number 7 painted on their cheeks, and there was also a large cutout for his smiling face – mask not included.
A banner reads “SuperSONic” held aloft before kick-off. Another said: “You are my son.”
When playing on the left, screams rose every time Son touched the ball.
But this was a mostly uneventful return to football for him and the mask was clearly a nuisance, messing with it throughout the game.
His captain’s armband also proved to be a nuisance and kept sliding down his arm. He took an early corner with it in hand and shortly thereafter exchanged it for an angle that suited him better.
As soon as the half-time whistle blew, Son whipped the mask off to reveal a small scar over his left eye.
After a tight first half in which Uruguay captain Diego Godín came close to scoring when his header hit the post, Son came right in at the start of the second half.
There were only glimpses of him in the first period, but Son slipped past one defender and was sniffing out a goal, only for Jose Maria Jimenez to tie the ball home from possession in the penalty area. Perhaps the all-shooting son was even better.