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By Yoo Jee-ho
DOHA, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korean captain Son Heung-min defended his team's effort following a devastating loss to Brazil in the round of 16 in Qatar Monday night, saying their best just wasn't good enough against the top-ranked opponent.
South Korea fell to Brazil 4-1 to bow out of the FIFA World Cup at Stadium 974 in Doha. The Selecao scored all four of their goals in the first half, while substitute Paik Seung-ho had the lone South Korean marker in the second half.
"We did our best but it was an extremely difficult match," Son said in a televised interview. "But all the players here have battled proudly to get this far. There's no doubt in my mind about everyone's dedication and sacrifice.
"I can only apologize to our fans for not living up to their expectations," Son continued. "But I hope they all understand our situation. Everyone on the team did the best they could to prepare for this match."
Son played the entire tournament wearing a protective mask, after undergoing surgery to repair multiple fractures around his left eye. He sustained the injury in a collision with an opposing player on Nov. 1 and had surgery three days later. Son then played his first World Cup match in Qatar on Nov. 24.
Son failed to score in Qatar and join retired star Park Ji-sung as the only South Koreans to score in three consecutive World Cups. But he was an inspirational leader for the Taegeuk Warriors all along, even attempting headers at the risk of further injuries.
"I am okay. This is nothing compared to what my players have been going through," added Son, who played in the knockouts for the first time.
In the mixed zone, Son said playing through pain is part of his job description as a professional football player.
"I was born to play this sport and I have to wear a mask to play if that's what it takes," said the Tottenham Hotspur talisman. "Hopefully, I will be able to recover while the Premier League is on a break, so that I can soon start playing without the mask."
As for younger players who made their World Cup debuts in Qatar, Son said, "They have to be consistent and play with a sense of responsibility. I hope that this is not the end for them and that they can be even better going forward."
Son now has three World Cups to his credit at age 30. On whether he will be back for a fourth one in 2026, Son said, "I'll have to be good enough to play."
"As long as the national team needs me, I will give everything I have," Son added. "Four years is a long time. I will think about that possibility over those four years."
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