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Asian Games: S Korea suffer blow as Leverkusen play hardball

South Korea winger Son Heung-min's hopes of representing the host country at the Asian Games have been dashed by German club Bayer Leverkusen, who have refused to let him travel.

SEOUL: South Korea winger Son Heung-min's hopes of representing the host country at the Asian Games have been dashed by German club Bayer Leverkusen, who have refused to let him travel. The Korea Football Association (KFA) said attempts to try to persuade the Bundesliga side to allow the 22-year-old to play at the Incheon Games, which begin next month, had failed.

"Leverkusen informed us that they cannot release Son for the Asian Games," KFA officials said on Wednesday (Aug 13). "We re-requested they partially allow him to play but Leverkusen declined, citing that they can't release a player for matches that are not included in the FIFA calendar."

Clubs are not obliged to release players for international duty for matches which do not fall under the jurisdiction of football's world governing body. But Hoffenheim defender Kim Jin-su and midfielder Park Joo-ho of Mainz 05 were named among the 20-man South Korea squad, the only two included who are currently playing in Europe.

Leverkusen's tough stance is a double blow for Son as a gold medal at the Asian Games, an under-23 competition, automatically means an exemption from mandatory military service in South Korea. The Koreans, whose senior side famously reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup on home soil, last won the Asian Games football tournament in Seoul back in 1986.

Coach Lee Kwang-jong is pinning his hopes on towering striker Kim Shin-wook, last season's South Korean player of the year. "He has great skills for a player his size," Lee told local media. "I think he should thrive against Asian opponents."

The football competition runs from Sep 14 - five days before the Asian Games officially begin - to Oct 3.

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