Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min said he will try to live up to his fans' expectations now that he has received an exemption from conscription after South Korea won the gold medal at the Asian Games.
South Korea won gold at the under-23 tournament with a 2-1 victory over Japan in Indonesia on Saturday, meaning the 20 players in the squad will avoid a mandatory 21-month military service.
Much of the focus has been on Son, 26, who was permitted by Tottenham to seek a last-chance bid for exemption from his impending duty as one of South Korea's overage players.
"I left my club for such a long time," Son told reporters at Incheon Inernational Airport in Seoul, where hundreds of fans waited for the athletes' arrival. "As a footballer, this is not the limit of my ambitions. I think what's important is the future, and I'll try to accomplish what people want from me."
2018 Asian Game Winner 우리 팀원들 코칭스태프 또 우리 지원스태프 너무 감사하고 사랑하고 또 부족한 저를 정말로 빛나게 해줘서 너무 고맙습니다 주장으로써 처음으로 나간 국제 대회에서 이런 좋은성적을 낼수 있게 해줘서 너무나도 영광입니다 너무 많이 고생했고 진짜로 정말 진심으로 감사합니다 그리고 정말 저를 응원해주시는 팬분들 또는 전세계 축구팬분들 뭐라고 말씀을 드려야 할지 모르겠습니다 너무 많은 성원 너무많은 응원을 받아서 정말 많은 책임감 느끼고 감사하게 생각합니다 정말로 팬분들 덕분에 제가 금메달이라는거를 목에 걸수 있었습니다 저한테 평생 잊지 못할 추억 만들어주셔서 감사합니다 앞으로 대한민국을 위해서 대한민국 축구를 위해서 또 저 손흥민을 위해서 최선을 다해서 발전된 모습 보이도록 노력 정말 많이 하겠습니다! 감사하고 사랑합니다❤️ 금메달은 국민의 것입니다🥇
That future will not include time in the army thanks to a tough schedule of seven games in 17 days at the Asian Games.
"It was the first time since my middle or high school days that I played that many matches in such a short period of time," said Son, the team's captain for the tournament. "But I learned many things. Although I was physically tired, I tried not to show it to my teammates, and I always worked hard to sacrifice for the team. The players followed me, and that's why we got a good result."
After being greeted by a hail of sweets and then eggs at the airport after early exits from the last two World Cups, South Korea's homecoming on Monday was a much happier affair.
There will be little rest for Son, Jo Hyeon-woo and Hwang Ui-jo, the three overage players, who will report for senior national team duty on Wednesday -- two days ahead of South Korea's friendly with Costa Rica, the first game in charge for coach Paulo Bento.
Cho, the goalkeeper, registered to join the K-League's military club, Sangju Sangmu, in December, but can now follow his dream -- one he expressed to ESPN FC during the World Cup.
"Fans are expecting me to go to Europe and I am determined to show that I am good enough," Cho said.
Hwang, who plays for Gamba Osaka, was the star of the tournament with nine goals.
U23s coach Kim Hak-bom, who earned a contract through the Olympics in 2020, thanked the "wild cards" for helping the team.
"The three players did more than what they were supposed to do," Kim said. "They really led their young teammates well. We earned a good result because of our players' hard-working effort."