The “Korean Hiddink” stands between Son Heung-min and South Korea taking another step towards retaining their Asian Games title – and earning Tottenham forward Son and his teammates exemption from compulsory military service.
The South Korean government rewards Asian Games gold medals and Olympic medals of any kind with an exemption from the country’s compulsory 21-month military service.
Failure to win a gold medal in Indonesia will likely mean that the 26-year-old Son will have to return to South Korea within the next two years to perform his national duty.
And the possible severe interruption to his Premier League career is perhaps why Spurs have allowed the talented star to compete in Indonesia despite the league season just kicking off in England.
Son has been given leave from Spurs to take part as one of three overage players each team is allowed.
If the Taegeuk Warriors are to reach the final, however, and avoid military service then they will have to get past Vietnam and a familiar face on Wednesday.
Korean coach Park Hang-seo, a member of Guus Hiddink’s coaching staff at the 2002 World Cup when South Korea reached the semi-finals, is coaching Vietnam.
Korea’s unlikely run to the semis in a 2002 World Cup it co-hosted with Japan had millions of fans pouring onto the streets in cities across the country to celebrate victories.
Park’s success with Vietnam has sparked similar scenes in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere when he took the national team to the final of Asia’s Under-23 championship in January.
At the Asian Games, Vietnam’s ‘Golden Stars’ have reached the last four and once more fans at home are getting excited – sparked by the man referred to as the “Korean Hiddink”.
“Back then (in 2002) I was an assistant coach, but now I’m a head coach,” Park said after Vietnam’s 1-0 extra-time quarter-final win over Syria set up a semi-final with the Koreans.
“We stopped in the semi-finals in 2002. But now we’ll not stop in the semi-finals.”
The semi provides Park with a reunion with former K-League coaching counterpart Kim Hak-bom, now leading Korea’s Under-23s.
“I’ve known him since the K-League days and we’re sharing the same hotel,” Park said. “As you know, he is such a good tactician – he’s known as ‘(Alex) Ferguson of the K-League.’”
“I really love my country, but now I’m head coach of the Vietnamese national team. I’m having a good time with Vietnam and I’m enjoying my work.”
Son, meanwhile, skipped the 2014 Asian Games on home soil, when the South Koreans won the gold medal.
He missed Korea’s opener here but came on as a replacement in a surprising group-stage loss to Malaysia, before scoring in the deciding group game to ensure his team progressed to the knockouts.
The title defense was touch and go on Monday, with Korea trailing 3-2 against Uzbekistan with 15 minutes of the quarter-final remaining.
Hwang Ui-jo, the tournament’s leading scorer, completed his hat-trick to equalise at 3-3 and take the game into extra-time, and Hwang Hee-chan then slotted home a penalty with two minutes remaining to send the South Koreans into the semis.
Now Son and Co must overcome a determined and disciplined Vietnam team coached by a man who knows Korean football extremely well.
“I’m trying to pass on my knowledge and football philosophy to this team,” Park said of his strategy with Vietnam. “I always emphasise to the team that it’s not about me, but it’s about us.”
The winner will face either Japan or the UAE in the final on September 1.
Organisers of the 2019 Asian Cup have launched a new nationwide campaign aimed at inspiring women across the UAE to fulfill their potential in the community.
Whether through sport or local initiatives, women in the Emirates are making positive change and are increasingly regarded as role models for the future.
The campaign, which continues the theme of the AFC’s highly-successful ‘It’s My Game’ movement is the first of its kind in the west zone and will feature stories of real women involved in sport and the community, from players to doctors, marketers to managers, referees, photographers, coaches and more.
AFC general secretary Dato’ Windsor John said: “Women’s football represents an essential pillar for the AFC and is an important part of the future success of Asian football.
“As we have witnessed through the ‘It’s My Game campaign,’ we will continue to invest in their development to fulfil our vision and mission in expanding the reach of the game and to empower communities of all nationalities, ages, and backgrounds.
“There is no better platform to showcase and celebrate the inspiring role of women than through Asia’s most prestigious and biggest-ever football tournament.”
The campaign also aims to encourage conversations with the next generation on the prospects of pursuing a career in sport as well as leveraging the power of sport to empower the community.
Launched in conjunction with Emirati Women’s Day, the initiative will collaborate with inspirational women who represent a broad spectrum of nationalities and work in a variety of sporting and community positions.
To commemorate the moment, they posed for striking and powerful images showcasing the diversity of women who are part of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 campaign.
Speaking on the launch of the campaign, tournament director Aref Al Awani said: “Our ambition is to show the next generation of women how to play a role in shaping the community and support sport in the UAE.
“That is why we are launching a campaign that will see us embark on a wide listening and learning exercise, where we introduce women to the massive opportunities of careers in sport or helping the community.
“What better way to launch this campaign than by capturing the women right now in the UAE working in sports and community roles. Young women can aspire to be involved through powerful imagery that shows them as they are – real, inspirational and lifting the UAE to new heights.”
Dr Reema Al Hosani, chief medical officer of the Asian Cup and one of the female figures involved in the launch shoot, was full of excitement for what lies ahead.
“This campaign is all about uncovering and celebrating the real stories of women excelling in the UAE,” she said.
“Over the next three months we have a brilliant opportunity to drive forward the agenda and showcase how women are making change. What a fantastic legacy that would be for the 2019 Asian Cup.”
Tournament organisers of the 2019 Asian Cup spoke about peace and tolerance as they announced the release of tickets for the tournament which will be played early next year in the UAE.
The 17th version of the Asian Cup – first played in Hong Kong in 1956 – will see the Emirates host for the second time, and Alberto Zaccheroni’s men will dream of emulating their ancestors, who stormed all the way to the final on home soil in 1996.
There, the dream ended, as they lost on penalties to Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia. But the dream is just beginning for the current generation ahead of the tournament, which kicks of in Abu Dhabi on January 5, with the Whites opening the tournament against Bahrain.
Speaking on Thursday at the launch of tickets for the Asian Cup at Zayed Sports City Stadium, which will host the opening game as well as the final, tournament director Aref Al Awani said: “The UAE, through its high mission which represents peace, tolerance, happiness, and openness, welcomes all teams and all nationals of the Asian continent to attend and watch this big continental event, which brings 24 teams together for the first time.
“This great participation is a big focus for us as it reflects the potential of the UAE and its great capabilities in organising the biggest and most important global and continental sporting events.
“The announcement of the general ticket sale is a proof that the countdown has started, and preparations are on the right path.”
The Whites will feature in Group A, which also houses Thailand and India.
The Green Falcons, who featured at this summer’s World Cup, will face Lebanon, North Korea and Qatar in Group E.
And Asian Cup organisers say they do not envision any problems arising from the Qatari national team’s participation in the tournament.
The UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017 over its support for extremist groups.
“Sport is not affected by politics,” said Al Awani.
“We don’t see any problem with that. We are welcoming all countries. The Qatar national team can attend, we have this experience with them in the AFC Champions League. Whatever happens there, we can prove they’ve been here. Everyone saw that in the Champions League tournament.
“And everybody will see them, Inshallah, in Janaury. Qatari fans will be welcome. We are welcoming anyone to come and attend and participate.
“The only thing that will be different is that they will have to process through security and that is a normal thing for any country who doesn’t have a direct entry visa. It is normal. There are a lot of countries like that.”