The Korea Herald


Son Heung-min pleads with fans to tone down vitriol

By Yonhap

Published : Jan. 26, 2024 - 09:13

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Son Heung-min reacts to a 3-3 draw against Malaysia in the teams' Group match at the Asian Cup at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar, on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Son Heung-min reacts to a 3-3 draw against Malaysia in the teams' Group match at the Asian Cup at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea limping into the knockout stage of the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup after a string of uninspiring group matches in Qatar, members of the famously passionate fan base have been voicing their displeasure online.

Aware of the mounting criticism against his team, captain Son Heung-min has asked fans to tone down their vitriol.

Son made his plea Thursday after South Korea's 3-3 draw with the minnows Malaysia in Group E action at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, south of Doha.

"A lot of fans have crossed the line with their comments on social media and online, and it's really unfortunate," Son said at the postmatch press conference. He was brought in as the Man of the Match, after scoring the 3-2 goal with a penalty during second-half stoppage time.

"We all have families and friends. It breaks my heart that we have to hear such harsh words," Son added. "We are all human beings before we are football players. We are all doing our best to satisfy (our fans), and I hope fans will protect the players a little more. I would like to plead with football fans and journalists to do that."

Son and his teammates didn't help themselves, though, when they blew a pair of one-goal leads to settle for a draw against 130th-ranked Malaysia.

South Korea, the top-ranked team in Group E at No. 23, only recorded one victory in the group stage, a 3-1 win over 86th-ranked Bahrain on Jan. 15. They let Bahrain pull even before midfielder Lee Kang-in took over and scored a brace in the second half.

Five days later, Jordan, No. 87, nearly upset South Korea but had a last-minute own goal to instead take a 2-2 draw.

South Korea scored first against Malaysia before conceding two unanswered goals in the second half. A Malaysian own goal pulled South Korea level, and then Son put them ahead with his stoppage-time penalty.

But later during added time, South Korea's defense broke down and allowed the equalizer to Romel Morales.

South Korea had already qualified for the knockouts before Thursday's match, with only the group seeding at stake in the finale. Malaysia, on the other hand, had already been eliminated from knockout contention and had little left to play for but their pride.

South Korea completely dominated ball possession, but it didn't result in an advantage in the final score.

"This result is difficult to accept," Son said. "It's disappointing. But the most important thing is we have reached the round of 16."

South Korea arrived at the Asian Cup on a six-match winning streak, during which they had scored 20 goals without conceding any.

In three matches so far in Qatar, they have already given up six goals, tied with Indonesia for the most among knockout-bound nations.

"It's not ideal that we've conceded so many goals," Son said. "If you want to win this tournament, you have to be ready for big teams."

Son said, "There are no favorites" at a tournament because underdogs can always surprise people.

"It was a big wake-up call to make us even stronger going into the knockout stage," he added. (Yonhap)