‘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.


Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

Updated 25 March 2019
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Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

  • Five-year old bidding to become first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups.
  • $12 million race takes place at Meydan on Saturday.

LONDON: Thunder Snow is preparing well as he bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups, according to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The five-year-old memorably won the showcase $12 million race at Meydan by five and three-quarter lengths, winning in a track record time last year. He returned to the track on Super Saturday two weeks ago, finishing second in the Group 1 Al-Maktoum Challenge Round Three.
And Godolphin are expecting big things from him in the famous race. Bin Suroor, the most successful handler in the history of the 2000m dirt feature with eight winners to his name, is feeling confident.
“He did his final serious piece of work on Saturday and went very well indeed,” the Godolphin trainer said. “He needed his Super Saturday outing — his first run since November — badly and has come on a lot for it. We expect him to run a big race under conditions we know suit him, but obviously it is a good race.”
Thunder Snow has already made history as the only horse to win both the Group 2 UAE Derby and Group 1 Dubai World Cup, but if he is to win this Saturday then he will be revered for years to come.
One of his big rivals in the race will be Yoshida. Trained by Bill Mott he arrived in Dubai on March 19 in preparation for the cash-rich race. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry landed in the Emirate off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
He won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bob, said Yoshida is looking good ahead of the big race.
“He’s settled in really well,” he said. “He traveled great and we’re very happy with him. The facilities here are top class. This is my seventh time over here and we’re treated very well.”
Yoshida went out just after 7:00 a.m. in Monday to stretch his legs over the famous dirt track.
“He just had a routine gallop this morning and we let him stand in the gate. Nothing too serious,” Mott said.
Jose Ortiz, who has piloted Yoshida though his last two starts and was aboard for the Grade 1 score at Churchill Downs, will make his first appearance in Dubai. Mott said he expects Ortiz, who guided Yoshida to a closing fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will have plenty of options in the 2000m race.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of pace from the local horses, but we have a horse that’s pretty versatile in the way he runs,” Mott said. “He’s able to adapt to the pace scenario. It’s just a matter of how the race develops in front of him.”