South Korea lost their first World Cup match 1-0 to Sweden yesterday on an Andreas Granqvist penalty kick. It was a disappointing result for the Taeguk Warriors who now face the daunting proposition of having to take points off of both Mexico and Germany to escape their group.
Nobody is taking it harder than Son Heung-Min. Korea’s best player and leader, the Tottenham Hotspur forward took the burden of the team’s loss on his shoulders, saying basically that Korea lost because he didn’t do enough.
“I’m still disappointed about my performance and feel very, very sorry for my teammates because if we don’t score, it’s my fault, because I need to take the responsibility.
“Of course it is a bit different, because when I play at Tottenham, every player is one of the best players. Sometimes, when I play for South Korea, I need to give the pass to the other players and sometimes, it is a bit different than Tottenham.”
It must be incredibly difficult for Sonny. While he’s an amazing footballer, at Spurs he’s part of a team, many of whom are as good or better than he is. That takes the pressure off him a little bit. But with South Korea, he’s the man — he’s one of Korea’s most recognizable athletes and easily the team’s best player. If he plays well, the team plays well, but it also means that any failures fall squarely on his shoulders. That’s an enormous amount of responsibility.
Also factor in Son’s personal drive, national pride, and that he probably really really wants to avoid military service, and you get quotes like the ones above. Sonny wasn’t especially masterful against Sweden, but he was just about the only Korean player who was generating any offense. While not a great team, Sweden also has a very stingy defense, with seven clean sheets in World Cup qualifying. Korea’s defense was a bit of a tire-fire and it was only some really nice saves from their keeper kept the scoreline from being even worse.
The prospects of escaping Group F, which is one of the better ones in the World Cup if not the best, were never great to begin with, but it sure sounds like Sonny is setting himself up to be the fall guy. That would be unfortunate. Even Michael Jordan had a Scottie Pippen (or even a Luc Longley) to help him out. It’s looking like Korea might not even have that, and Sonny could willingly shoulder the lion’s share of the blame. That’s what leaders do, but it doesn’t make it fair.