By Lee Jihae
Son Heung-min, 30, star striker of Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League and captain of the national soccer team, is ranked 13th on the ESPN list of the 50 best players in this year's FIFA World Cup.
He is the lone Asian in the rankings.
ESPN on Nov. 17 said, "South Korea has a deeper talent pool than in recent years, but Son remains the country's superstar, carrying a nation's hopes on his shoulders. So in that context, news that the Tottenham forward required surgery on a fractured eye socket less than three weeks before the tournament began was just about the biggest scare South Korea could endure."
"They face a tough group with Uruguay, Portugal and Ghana to play, and they will surely need Son back at his best to progress."
ESPN ranks players at every World Cup before its opening based on votes from "television analysts, reporters, columnists, producers and editors from all over the world." Son was 37th at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In the Qatar tournament, Kylian Mbappe of France (Paris Saint-Germain) was at the top of the ESPN list, followed in order by compatriot Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium (Manchester City) and Lionel Messi of Argentina (Paris Saint-Germain).
Son's Spurs teammate Harry Kane of England was 11th.
Among players on the three other teams in Group H along with Korea, Federico Valverde of Uruguay (Real Madrid) was 14th; Bernardo Silva of Portugal (Manchester City) 16th; Joao Cancelo of Portugal (Manchester City) 17th; Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal (Manchester United) 20th and Ruben Dias of Portugal (Manchester City) 23rd. No Ghanaian players made the list.
In a Nov. 2 Europe Champions League game against host Olympique de Marseille, Son's face violently collided with the shoulder of Marseille defender Chancel Mbemba. The Korean suffered four fractures on his left eye socket and underwent surgery.