‘Proud’ Son sparks Koreans to Asian Cup win as Iran fire blanks

South Korea’s forward Son Heung-Min applauds fans at the end of the AFC Asian Cup group C match between South Korea and China at Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi. (AP Photo)
Updated 16 January 2019
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‘Proud’ Son sparks Koreans to Asian Cup win as Iran fire blanks

  • Son Heung-min inspired title-chasing South Korea to a comfortable 2-0 victory over China on Wednesday to finish top of their Asian Cup group
  • Iran, joint favorites with the Koreans, also advanced as group winners despite being held to a goalless draw by bitter rivals Iraq

ABU DHABI: An effervescent Son Heung-min inspired title-chasing South Korea to a comfortable 2-0 victory over China on Wednesday to finish top of their Asian Cup group.
Iran, joint favorites with the Koreans, also advanced as group winners despite being held to a goalless draw by bitter rivals Iraq, while Kyrgyzstan squeaked through on their tournament debut.
Hwang Ui-jo and Kim Min-jae were on target as South Korea, boosted by the arrival of their talisman, ran China ragged in Abu Dhabi.
Son won the penalty converted by Hwang and fizzed in the assist for Kim to help South Korea finish top of Group C with a perfect nine points as they look to end 59 years of Asian Cup hurt.
“Of course I’m a bit tired — I didn’t expect to play for so long,” Korean captain Son told AFP after completing 87 minutes despite a punishing run of 13 games for Tottenham since the start of December.
“But it’s an honor to wear this red shirt and play for the national team. My first game of the tournament, clean sheet, 2-0 — it’s a happy afternoon!“
Marcello Lippi’s China finished as group runners-up having likewise already sealed their place in the last 16 by winning their first two matches.
Spurs forward Son, who played in the London club’s 1-0 defeat by Manchester United three days ago, showed quick feet to tempt China defender Shi Ke into a rash lunge after 12 minutes.
Hwang calmly tucked away the spot-kick to send thousands of Korean ‘Red Devils’ fans wild at the compact Al Nahyan Stadium.
South Korea, who beat Asian Cup first-timers Philippines and Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in their opening two games, went for the jugular.
A Hwang Hee-chan rocket forced China goalkeeper Yan Junling into a fingertip save before Hwang Ui-jo curled an effort against the post.
The Koreans doubled their lead six minutes after the break when Son’s corner was met by Kim’s thumping header.
Son went down clutching his ankle after a meaty challenge from China’s tattooed defender Zhang Linpeng late on.
But the 26-year-old appeared to suffer no lasting damage and was given a rousing reception when he trotted off three minutes from time.
South Korea, who famously reached the World Cup semifinals in 2002, have failed to win Asian football’s most coveted prize since winning back-to-back titles in 1956 and 1960.
But the addition of the mercurial Son has clearly energised the 2015 runners-up, who suddenly look a very different proposition.
China, Asian Cup finalists in 1984 and 2004, began the competition by edging Kyrgyzstan 2-1 and overpowering the Philippines 3-0.
But they were no match for South Korea, who are yet to learn the identity of their next opponents.
“Let’s be honest, the Korean team is much stronger than us — they’re faster, technically superior and play with greater intensity,” shrugged Lippi, whose side face Thailand in the last 16.
“We have to accept that and focus on our next challenge.”
Iran, themselves looking to end a 43-year title drought, fired blanks in Dubai but still topped Group D on goal difference from Iraq after earlier thrashing Yemen 5-0 and beating Vietnam 2-0.
“When it’s necessary for my players to play, they play,” said Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.
“When it’s necessary for them to fight, they fight. If it’s necessary for them to sing and dance, they will be ready.”
Elsewhere, a Vitalij Lux hat-trick sent Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Philippines crashing out and Kyrgyzstan through from Group C as one of the best third-placed teams after a 3-1 victory.
The Filipino “street dogs” grabbed a late consolation through Stephan Schrock — their first-ever Asian Cup goal and one celebrated with gusto by their noisy fans.
Vietnam eased past war-torn Yemen 2-0 to keep their hopes alive after a brilliant Nguyen Quang Hai free-kick and a penalty from Que Ngoc Hai.


Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Updated 37 min 10 sec ago
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Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Tennis fans in Dubai are in for a treat this week as nine of the world’s top 10 women players do battle in the city to claim the Duty Free Championship crown, which starts today. Arab News picks out likely winners and glamor ties to keep an eye on during the tournament.

NAOMI OSAKA

The Japanese superstar, fresh from winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, is playing her first event as world No. 1 and her first since her shock split with her coach Sascha Bajin.

The German had helped guide Osaka to back-to-back Grand Slam triumphs, with her win at the US Open last year. Osaka is yet to reveal why she decided to part ways with Bajin.

Regardless of events off-court, the Japanese will be the woman to beat and she will be playing the winner of the first-round tie between Kristina Mladenovic and Omani wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani.

The last 12 months have seen a meteoric rise for Osaka. She started 2018 at number 68 in the WTA rankings. Going into the first Grand Slam of 2019, she was ranked 4th in the world, and thanks to Indian Wells now finds herself at the summit of women’s tennis. Expect her to go deep into the tournament in Dubai.

SIMONA HALEP

The Romanian could well face Osaka if she makes it to the semifinals, but will fancy her chances of reaching her first final in Dubai since she claimed the trophy in 2015. 

She will also be delighted that Serena Williams is not in Dubai, having been stopped in her tracks in Melbourne earlier this year by the American, her ninth defeat in 10 games to her nemesis.

She will also be buoyed by the fact that by virtue of reaching yesterday’s final in Doha, she is guaranteed to move up to world No. 2 before even serving a ball.

Halep will open her tournament against either a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard or Vera Lapko, with a tricky potential Doha rematch against Elize Mertens to come by the third round, which should she win would set up a blockbuster showdown against either Aryna Sabalenka or Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. She comes into Dubai with the weight of expectation on her shoulders, but Halep should cope.

ELINA SVITOLINA

The two-time defending champion is part of an exclusive club as one of only three women to win back-to-back Dubai titles (Justine Henin and Venus Williams also accomplished the feat), and this week the No. 7 seed will be looking to go one better and win a third straight Dubai crown.

Svitolina will be disappointed she could not turn a commanding 4-1 lead over Halep in her Doha semifinal into a win, but will have put that loss behind her.

The Ukrainian will have to be at her best as she has been given a tough route to a potential final in Dubai. She opens against either Donna Vekic or Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the best-ranked Arab on the tour. A third-round battle with Garbine Muguruza looks likely, while Halep and Osaka could be waiting for her in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. It would be a remarkable achievement if Svitolina made it three in a row in Dubai.

PETRA KVITOVA

Having made the Australian Open final, Kvitova had to take a short break from the game to testify against the man who attacked her in 2016, reliving the traumatic life-threatening ordeal that left her with nerve damage in all five fingers of her left hand. Her courageous comeback on the tour was hailed by both players and fans.

“I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad that this one’s over,” she said in Dubai on Saturday, referring to her testimony in court.

Kvitova knows what it takes to win in Dubai, having claimed the trophy in 2013, and opens her campaign against either Petra Martic or Katerina Siniakova in the second round.