South Korea’s coach warned that Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min may have to be eased in gently when he arrives at the Asian Cup after a frantic few months for club and country.
Son has played nearly 1,000 minutes in 16 games for Spurs already this season, on top of his appearances at last year’s World Cup and Korea’s title run at the Asian Games.
He will arrive in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, a day after Spurs’ Premier League clash with Manchester United, and Portuguese coach Paulo Bento said he was mindful of the player’s workload.
“After he arrives we will see what we are going to do in the game against China. We will talk and then we are going to take the best decisions for the team,” said Bento.
“So we need to wait for the game that probably he’s going to play on Sunday and then check everything he’s done in the last months because he played a lot of games.”
South Korea, the 2015 runners-up, have laboured to 1-0 wins over debutants the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan without Son, who sat out the Group C openers under a deal with Tottenham.
However, the Koreans are safely into the last 16 ahead of Wednesday’s group decider against China, who hit form in a 3-0 demolition of the Philippines on Friday.
Bento said South Korea would continue to play the same way with or without Son, the most prolific Asian player in Premier League history.
“We are not going to change our way of playing when we have Son Heung-min with us,” Bento said, after the narrow win over Kyrgyzstan on Friday.
“What I think we are going to do is improve our collective game, try to attack better than we have played until now. Of course a player with the quality that Son has, and in the form that he is in at this moment, can help the team.
“But we need to wait until the game against China or the knockout phase.”
Only Lee Min-jae’s first-half header separated the teams in Al Ain, but South Korea could have had more as they hit the crossbar three times in the second half.