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(World Cup) Sonny vs. Neymar in battle of stars in round of 16

07:00 December 04, 2022

By Yoo Jee-ho

DOHA, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- For South Korean captain Son Heung-min, the round of 16 match against Brazil will set up another battle within battle against an international star, Neymar.

In South Korea's 2-1 victory over Portugal in the last Group H match on Friday, Son got the upper hand over fellow No. 7 and captain, Cristiano Ronaldo. Son assisted on Hwang Hee-chan's last-gasp winner that sent the Taegeuk Warriors into the knockouts, while Ronaldo played a little over an hour with Portugal having already grabbed a knockout spot.

Next up for Son and Co. will be Neymar, the oft-injured star for the Selecao. The match kicks off at 10 p.m. Monday at Stadium 974 in Doha, or 4 a.m. Tuesday in South Korea.

Son Heung-min of South Korea in action against Portugal during the countries' Group H match at the FIFA World Cup at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, on Dec. 3, 2022. (Yonhap)

Neymar has only appeared in one match so far in Qatar, after suffering an ankle injury in Brazil's first group match against Serbia on Nov. 24. He is expected to be ready against South Korea.

If Neymar plays, it will be his third meeting against South Korea. He scored three times in two previous games: two goals in a 5-1 win in June this year and another in a 2-0 victory in October 2013.

Son came off the bench in the 2013 game. Neymar missed Brazil's 3-0 victory November 2019, with Son playing the full 90 minutes. Son also played the entire match in June without factoring into the offense, and forward Hwang Ui-jo was the lone South Korean scorer then.

Son has been an inspirational leader for South Korea throughout the competition here, having competed in three tough group matches while wearing a protective mask over his face. Son suffered multiple fractures around his left eye after colliding with an opponent during a UEFA Champions League match on Nov. 1. He had surgery three days later and played South Korea's first Group H match on Nov. 24.

Son has not been his best, but even at less than 100 percent, he can still be a dangerous player for opposing defenders. Take, for instance, Son's assist in Friday's win. He pounced on the loose ball that had trickled out in open space in midfield and dribbled all the way toward the box. Three defenders collapsed on him, but Son had the presence of mind and vision to thread a pass to Hwang through multiple legs.

Son Heung-min of South Korea plays with his protective mask in his right hand during the Group H match against Portugal at the FIFA World Cup at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, on Dec. 3, 2022. (Yonhap)

Throughout the Portugal match, Son drew multiple defenders on himself whenever he got into dangerous areas. On the scoring play, Hwang did the right thing by sneaking behind unsuspecting defense and getting himself open. South Korean attackers must continue the same play against Brazil.

And South Korean defenders will have their hands full against Neymar, one of the most accomplished players of this generation chasing his first World Cup title.

Neymar will have the luxury of being surrounded by more accomplished teammates than Son. The supporting cast includes Son's Tottenham Hotspur teammate, Richarlison, who netted two goals to beat Serbia 2-0.

Son will look to lead the way past Brazil's nicked-up defense. Left back Alex Telles has been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury, while the other left back option, Alex Sandro, is dealing with hip problems.

Neymar of Brazil (R) tries to beat Nikola Milenkovic of Serbia (L) during their countries' Group G match at the FIFA World Cup at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, on Nov. 24, 2022. (Yonhap)

Son remains tied with two retired stars, Park Ji-sung and Ahn Jung-hwan, for most World Cup goals by a Korean player with three. One more goal in Qatar will also make Son the second South Korean, after Park, to score in three consecutive World Cups.

Neymar is playing in his third World Cup. The prolific forward won the Bronze Boot as the third-leading scorer at the 2014 tournament with four goals. He added two more goals in 2018.

In this UPI photo, Neymar of Brazil grabs his injured right ankle during Brazil's Group G match against Serbia at the FIFA World Cup at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha, on Nov. 24, 2022. (Yonhap)



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