(ATTN; ADDS comments at bottom)
By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, March 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korean captain Son Heung-min ended his international goal drought on Tuesday after hitting the net with a superb strike in a friendly match against Colombia.
Son scored South Korea's opening goal in the 16th minute with a right-footed shot in South Korea's 2-1 win over Colombia at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul. He now has 24 goals in 79 caps.
It was Son's long-awaited goal for South Korea. Son's last international goal for the senior side was at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, where he sealed South Korea's stunning 2-0 win over Germany in the group stage.
This was also Son's first goal in nine matches under head coach Paulo Bento.
Prior to the Colombia friendly, there were numerous opportunities for Son to end the drought under Bento's reign. In particular, he was a penalty taker in friendly matches against Costa Rica and Uruguay but failed to convert the spot kicks.
At the 2019 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup, where South Korea suffered a quarterfinals exit, Son was even criticized by some fans for not taking shots when he had chances.
To make the best use of his best offensive weapon in March friendlies, Bento came up with a 4-4-2 formation that deployed Son as a center forward, a tactic that has often been used by Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham.
Against Bolivia, Son was the main man on offense, leading the match with seven shots. Although he failed to score a goal, it was apparently a warm-up to Son's transformation to a goal-poaching forward.
Ahead of Tuesday's friendly, there were high expectations for Son to break his goal drought, given his past performance against Colombia. In the 2017 friendly against Colombia, it was Son who grabbed a brace and led South Korea to a 2-1 win at home.
And Son didn't let down fans this time.
Son got off to a good start against Colombia, unleashing his first shot in the seventh minute with a powerful right-footed strike from outside the box and firing another one minute later.
Then in the 16th, Son took a fine pass from his partner Hwang Ui-jo and unleashed a powerful strike to beat Colombian goalkeeper Ivan Arboleda, who was playing in his first international match.
Son could have earned his second goal in the 19th. After receiving a pass from Lee Jae-sung, he fired a low-shot in the box, but it rang off the post.
Son was relatively quiet in the second half as Colombia started to possess the ball and moved forward. However, as the team captain, he played full time and encouraged his teammates to stay focused until the final whistle.
Son gave credit to his teammates and coaching staff for supporting him and believing in him.
"I felt like I was being a distraction to the rest of the team, because people kept mentioning my name when talking about the national team," Son said. "I couldn't have scored the goal today without the sacrifices of my teammates."
As for starting the past two matches as a forward, Son said he doesn't have a preference one way or the other.
"On my club, I've played both as a striker in a two-forward setting and as a winger," Son said. "No matter where the coach puts me, my job is to do the best I can in that position. I think it's important for me to keep playing the way I did today. That kind of consistency will help the national team and myself as a player."
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