By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- As head coach of the South Korean men's national football team gearing up for the FIFA World Cup this fall, Paulo Bento has his share of things to worry about.
But the early-season scoring drought for Son Heung-min, Bento's longtime captain, is not one of them.
Son, the reigning Golden Boot winner for Tottenham Hotspur, has not scored in the 2022-2023 season. He has been held without a goal in six Premier League matches and one UEFA Champions League match. There have been a few matches where Son did everything but score, hitting the woodwork or having a goal wiped out by an offside call.
Son will have a couple of chances to change the narrative quickly, with Spurs scheduled to play in the UEFA tournament and the domestic league in the days before the start of national team training camp here. It's never ideal to have his team's best offensive player coming in so cold, but Bento said Tuesday he feels the same way about Son now as he did when he netted 23 goals in the 2021-2022 campaign.
"Really, no concern," Bento said at a press conference at the Korea Football Association (KFA) House in Seoul, where he announced his 26-man squad for a pair of World Cup tuneup matches. The Taeguk Warriors will host Costa Rica on Sept. 23 and Cameroon four days later.
"I will not talk to him about this. Maybe he will come next Monday in a good way," Bento added. "I will not spend any time to talk about this kind of thing with him. We will focus on what we must do in these two games. (I have) all the confidence in him as usual. He's not the problem."
Son has excelled in recent international matches, with seven goals in his past dozen appearances. No South Korean player has netted more goals than Sonny in that span.
With Son once again expected to lead the way offensively, Bento will rely on Napoli center back Kim Min-jae to be his typically reliable and sturdy force on defense.
Kim was injured for South Korea's four friendly matches in June, and South Korea had several dicey moments in their own end without the 25-year-old.
Kim switched clubs over the summer and has made a strong first impression in the top Italian league. In addition to showcasing his defensive excellence, Kim has also scored two goals for Napoli.
"He's a fantastic player with very good skills in both phases of the game," Bento said of his top defender. "He's playing in a very good context in a very good league, and playing the Champions League as well. I think the step he took was the step we expected."
The two September matches will be the last ones Bento will have with South Korea at full strength. The KFA is working on scheduling another match at home in November before the team's departure to Qatar later that month for the World Cup. But because that match will not be part of the official FIFA international calendar, Son, Kim and others based in Europe will not be available for the national team.
Mindful of the ticking clock and dwindling opportunities to see the players ahead of the World Cup, Bento said he'd like to see improvements in all areas.
"This is a process that never finishes. We should try to improve our way of playing every time we have a training camp," he said. "Because this is the last one with all the players, we'll try to improve our style in general, not in any specific aspect. Many players from this list will be in the World Cup. We'll see who they are."