'Best day of my life' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 02, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 02, 2018

'Best day of my life'

Korea beat Japan 2-1 in final; team gets exemption from military service

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min was left beaming from ear to ear after winning an exemption from almost two years of military service by leading South Korea to Asian Games gold on Saturday.

The defending champions beat Japan 2-1 after extra time in steamy Cibinong, West Java as Lee Seung-woo and Hwang Hee-chan scored the goals that will allow 26-year-old Son to see out his new five-year deal with Spurs.

A late header from Ayase Ueda gave South Korea an almighty fright, but they survived a nervous last few moments to capture a record fifth Asian Games title.

Korean captain Son sprinted to embrace goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo at the final whistle, sobbing tears of joy as they rolled on the turf together.

"This is the best day in my life," Son told AFP, clutching his gold medal. "I'm so proud of my teammates, they fought for 120 minutes. But without the Korean people behind us we couldn't win this tournament. Of course when I see the people support me, I want to give something back and this is the best present for my life."

Failure to win gold could have been disastrous for Son's career as the multi-millionaire footballer faced swapping his tracksuit for a camouflage kit and 21 months of national service, compulsory for South Korean men.

"I'm so grateful to Tottenham because they let me come here," grinned Son. "Normally that's not an easy decision. I would have felt very sorry if I didn't win the gold medal," he added.

Nearly every able-bodied South Korean male is required to perform military service before the age of 28, although the government rewards Asian Games gold medals and Olympic medals of any colour with an exemption.

Son was selected to play at the 2014 Asian Games but his former club Bayer Leverkusen refused to release him -- and the Koreans scooped gold.

His tears after South Korea's quarterfinal defeat by Honduras at the 2016 Rio Olympics melted hearts, and thousands offered to do double their own military service in an online petition if Son could be pardoned.

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