The worst kept secret in this summer’s international football news has been confirmed today: Son Heung-Min is heading to the Olympics. The South Korean Football Association (KFA) announced their final squad that will compete in the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro this August, and Tottenham’s wide forward is featured front and center.
This isn’t exactly breaking news – while it wasn’t guaranteed that Sonny would be able to join his international teammates in Brazil earlier this Spring, it looked more and more likely as time went on. Korea’s manager notably held Sonny out of a couple of key World Cup qualifiers during Tottenham’s late season run-in as a way of mollifying Spurs and with the hopes that they’d let him go in late July. Spurs have now reciprocated.
However, he will be a bit late to the party – according to ESPN, Sonny will meet up with his Olympic teammates only after Spurs’ preseason friendly matches in the International Champions Cup against Juventus and Atletico Madrid, which will be held in Australia beginning July 26. Korea coach Shin Tae-Yong confirmed that Sonny will miss Korea’s first match against Fiji.
While Olympic football is primarily a U23 tournament, national federations can name three overage players on their final squads (Brazil is sending Neymar to Rio, for example). Sonny is one of Korea’s three, and he’s also Korea’s best national team player at the moment, so it works out pretty good. Korea is stuck in a tough Olympic group with Mexico, Germany, and Fiji, so success is not guaranteed, but if they can medal in the competition then all members of the team will automatically be exempt from Korea’s mandatory two-year military service. So there’s extra motivation there.
The bad news however is that the Olympics is a long competition. Should Korea make it out of their group, the first round of knock-out competition doesn’t begin until August 13. The Gold and Bronze Medal matches are on Saturday, August 20. Tottenham’s first match is Sat. August 13 at Everton, meaning that Sonny will not only miss the bulk of Tottenham’s preseason training, but will very likely miss the opening few matches of Spurs’ new Premier League season.