Football: Asian Games 2018 gold helps Tottenham star Son Heung-min to avoid compulsory military service

South Korea's Son Heung-min
South Korea's Son Heung-min Reuters

Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min was more relieved than happy on Saturday evening in Jakarta as he managed to avoid compulsory military service.

The 26-year-old would have swapped football shirts for military uniforms had South Korea finished with anything less than a gold medal in the men's football event of Asian Games 2018, which comes to a close on Sunday.

All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to do military service for at least 21 months before the age of 28. However, the government exempts gold medal winners of Asian Games and Olympic medalists.

Son, one of Mauricio Pochettino's lethal forwards at Spurs, had signed a new long-term contract until 2023 only in June this year and his Premier League stint would have been disrupted had he not led South Korea to Games glory on Saturday.

Having missed the 2014 Asian Games after former club Bayer Leverkusen refused to release him, Son had to plead with Spurs to let him play for his country in Jakarta and Palembang.

"I'm so grateful to Tottenham because they let me come here. Normally that's not an easy decision. I would have felt very sorry if I didn't win the gold medal," Son told the AFP.

"I really thank the coaching staff and players. I'll continue to work hard for Tottenham when I return."

Son had missed Premier League games against Fulham, Manchester United and will not be part of Sunday's tie against Watford.

'Best day of my life'

The star forward was instrumental in helping his national side beat Japan 2-1 in a thrilling gold medal match. He played a crucial role in the goals scored by Lee Seung-woo and Kim Hak-bum.

There were a few anxious moments for South Korea towards the end as Japan pulled one back via Ayase Ueda's strike with five minutes left to make it close. However, as the final whistle blew, Son and his teammates went berserk, running around the turf and acknowledging the good South Korean support.

"This is the best day of my life, I'm so proud of my teammates, they fought for 120 minutes. But without the Korean people behind us, we couldn't win this tournament. Of course, when I see the people support me, I want to give something back and this is the best present for my life," Son told AFP after the thriller.