Tardy Son savours SWC debut
Son Heung-Min (AFP)
Cuiaba - It was hardly the way South Korea's Son Heung-Min wanted to celebrate picking up the man-of-the-match award after a sparky World Cup debut in a 1-1 draw with Russia.
The 21-year-old Bayer Leverkusen star's evening took an unexpected turn when he was hauled in for an anti-doping control after the Group H game in Cuiaba on Tuesday night.
Without going into details 'the procedure' took longer than anticipated, and by the time Son emerged his colleagues and the team bus had long since departed the Arena Pantanal.
So Son was left behind on one of the landmark nights of his career, forced to head back to the Korean hotel alone in a cab.
Before finally taking his leave of the stadium, the pacy attacking midfielder, who moved from Hamburg to Leverkusen in a 10 million euro deal in 2013, gave a glimpse of what the whole experience of playing for his country on the world's greatest football stage had meant to him.
"It's like a dream, I tried to sleep before the game, but I couldn't.
"I was a little bit nervous. And then happy that I performed well in the first game."
Son, it is hard to believe, was only 11 when Korean coach Hong Myung-Bo skippered the nation to a remarkable semi-final spot at the 2002 World Cup.
Now, 12 years later, he was being tackled by the Brazilian media about his haircut, a sure sign that he has arrived in footballing terms.
In flawless German, picked up since joining Hamburg's youth academy aged 16, Son, who secured his 26th international cap on Tuesday, reflected on his side's opening point in a game they had fleetingly led.
Substitute Lee Keun-Ho put South Korea ahead with a 30 metre shot that Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev disastrously parried over his head into the net.
But that was cancelled out by Russian substitute Alexander Kerzhakov minutes later.
Son proved a handful for the Russian defence without capitalising. He had a gilt-edged chance in the first half, but shot high.
The result left both teams trailing Group H favourites Belgium, 2-1 winners over Algeria earlier in the day.
"We had the win in our sights but even so this one point is still important," said the dual-footed attacker, who is one of a batch of Koreans playing in the Bundesliga.
"We now have to study Algeria (their next rivals in Porte Alegre on Sunday) carefully to make sure we get the three points against them."
The scorer of 10 goals for Leverkusen last term downplayed the personal satisfaction of receiving the man of the match award.
"It doesn't mean that much right now, it was just important to get something out of this match, but having said that of course I'm happy because it was my first World Cup game."
"I felt very positive before the match, I really wanted to show something in this game."
Korea had a troubled build-up to Brazil, losing 1-0 to Tunisia and 4-0 to Ghana.
"In the last warm-ups we had some problems, the expectations were not very high, but we performed well here and now there is a lot of hope," he responded.