(LEAD) Son-Lee connection helps S. Korea past Thailand in World Cup qualifier

SEOUL, Two of South Korea's most gifted offensive players came through when their team needed them the most Tuesday night in Bangkok, providing a poetic moment in the process. With South Korea nursing a 1-0 lead over Thailand early in the second half of their latest World Cup qualifying match at Rajamangala Stadium, playmaking midfielder Lee Kang-in did what he does best: threading a pass to find a teammate when there doesn't seem to be much room at all. And Lee couldn't have asked for a better recipient of his pass. It was captain Son Heung-min, who had some open space on the left side of the box. And Son typically doesn't need much space to operate. Son dribbled into the box and past defender Suphanan Bureerat before firing a shot between the legs of goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai. South Korea took a 2-0 lead and went on to win 3-0. Lee jumped into the arms of Son to celebrate their goal-scoring play, a moment whose significance must not have been lost on many South Korean fans in the stands in Bangkok or watching from home. These two players were involved in a scuffle over a game of table tennis during the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup last month in Qatar. Son, as captain, wanted to use the team dinner on the eve of South Korea's semifinal match against Jordan as an opportunity for bonding. However, Lee and some other younger players finished their meal early and left to play some ping pong. Lee defied Son's order to rejoin the team, and in the ensuing shoving match, Son dislocated a finger in his right hand. After the incident was belatedly revealed, Lee took a beating from the angry public for challenging the beloved and highly-respected captain. Lee later visited Son in London, where he plays for Tottenham Hotspur, to apologize in person. Then right after reporting to national team camp near Seoul last week, Lee apologized in front of cameras once again. Lee received a warm ovation from fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium last Thursday before the start of the first leg against Thailand, a sign tha t people had moved on from the incident. And after getting subbed in for that match, Lee started Tuesday and made an impact on the first two South Korean goals. It was Lee's through ball to forward Cho Gue-sung that resulted in Lee Jae-sung's opening goal in the 19th minute. After taking the feed from Lee, Cho rolled the ball toward the wide-open net, and Lee got a piece of the ball to push it over the goal line at the last minute. The match wasn't as lopsided as the final score indicates. Before Son's goal, South Korea had survived some scares and were lucky to stay up by one. And the Taegeuk Warriors turned to their most trustworthy offensive options, and Lee and Son, having long buried their hatchet, delivered the goods. Son thanked his teammates for their sacrifice and dedication while playing in stifling conditions in Bangkok. "I think we really played as a team. I am so happy to get this clean-sheet win," Son said in a televised interview after the match. "Everyone went the extra mile tonight. I ho pe we can keep up this momentum." On his incident with Lee, Son said, "When competitive athletes are around each other, things can boil over and they can get into some arguments." "I think Kang-in will learn from this experience and grow both as a person and a football player," Son said. "I believe he is the one that will lead South Korean football in the future. And he deserves to be loved by a lot of football fans. He just has to understand he has many eyeballs on him." As for their embrace, Son smiled and said, "It's been a while since I last hugged him. I hope he continues to play well." Source: Yonhap News Agency

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