Korean football player Son Heung-min, left, shakes hands with coach Juergen Klinsmann after the match between Korea and Bahrain in Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar, Jan. 15. Reuters-Yonhap

It was almost 13 years ago to date that Son Heung-min scored his first international goal for Korea. It came on Jan. 18, 2011, during a 4-1 victory over India in a Group C match at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar. At 18 years and 194 days, Son became the second-youngest player to score for Korea.Son has since evolved into one of the best players ever in Korean football, someone also in the conversation for being among the greatest in Asian football history.Now captain for both Korea and his Premier League club, Tottenham Hotspur, Son is back in Qatar this month for his fourth AFC Asian Cup appearance.And his bid for his first Asian Cup title — and Korea’s quest for their first AFC crown since 1960 — got off to a victorious start Monday night in Doha, as Korea beat Bahrain 3-1 to open Group E play.”The 2011 Asian Cup was my first major tournament, and coming back to Qatar for my fourth Asian Cup, it’s something special,” Son told reporters at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium. “I want to make a special Asian Cup for myself and for my country. It’s going to be a long journey. We just want to focus on game by game and make it as special as possible.” Back at the 2011 Asian Cup, Son didn’t score again after the India match, as Korea lost to Japan on penalties in the semifinals and finished in third place. Four years later, Korea fell to the host country Australia in the final, with Son leading his team with three goals in the competition.In 2019, Korea were upset by the eventual champions Qatar in the quarterfinals, their earliest exit from the Asian Cup in 15 years. Son was held without a goal then.This year’s Asian Cup squad is widely considered the most talented Korean team ever, and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has repeatedly said his team has “the qualities to win the tournament.” Son, for his part, said it was difficult to compare the current unit to squads from the past Asian Cups.

“We can’t compare any team because football generations change, and football styles change in a year,” he said. “We have a fantastic team and amazing talent. It’s all about the commitment. I think we have an unbelievable team, but we haven’t won it for 64 years. We have just one aim to make it special with this team.”Korea had some difficulty getting past the dogged Bahrain defense in the early moments, and midfielder Hwang In-beom broke the ice in the 38th minute. Bahrain pulled even six minutes into the second half, before midfielder Lee Kang-in scored in the 56th and 68th minutes to cap Korea’s win.Son nearly joined the party in the 87th minute when he took a gorgeous through ball from Lee and moved in alone on goal. The captain, however, rolled his shot just wide of the right post.”It was never an easy game. Bahrain obviously prepared really well,” Son said. “It was tough to break, especially when we went up 1-0. Obviously, we had to do better. I think the most important thing is we won the game. We move on because the next game is coming really quick.”Korea will next play Jordan on Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. It’s a 2:30 p.m. kickoff (local time), or an 8:30 p.m. 스포츠토토존 start (Seoul time).

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