South Korean soccer star Son fought with teammate before Asian Cup loss, federation says

Seoul, South Korea CNNSouth Korean and Tottenham Hotspur soccer superstar Son Heung-min was involved in a fight with a teammate the night before the national team’s disastrous loss in an Asian Cup semifinal match earlier this month, the country’s football federation confirmed to CNN on Friday.

In the wake of the incident, the Korea Football Association later Friday fired head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, who had questioned the resolve of his team during the tournament.

“A physical brawl occurred between the Korean national football team players Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in during dinner the day before the Asian Cup semifinal match against Jordan,” an official at the Korea Football Association (KFA) said.

The official added that the KFA could not confirm any further details.

A KFA statement said the team dinner took place in Qatar on February 5, before South Korea’s 2-0 loss to Jordan at the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup.

The loss to Jordan, No. 87 in FIFA’s world rankings, was seen as a major embarrassment for the 23rd-ranked South Korean side.

Son is the captain of both Tottenham Hotspur in England’s Premier League and of the South Korean side. Lee, a midfielder for Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Ligue 1, is considered one of South Korea’s rising stars.

Photographs and video from the day of the Jordan match show Son with two fingers on his right hand strapped together with a white bandage.


A statement from Lee’s lawyer said that the player “deeply regrets and reflects on his wrongdoings.”

The statement also said that local media reports alleging Lee “threw a fist in Son Heung-min’s face when Son Heung-min grabbed the back of Lee Kang-in’s neck” are “not true.”

In a post on Instagram, reported by CNN affiliate JTBC, Lee apologized to South Korean fans.

“There was an article about me having a verbal argument with Son ahead of the Asian Cup semifinal,” Lee wrote. “I am very sorry to disappoint football fans who are always supporting the South Korea international team.”

He added that, “I should’ve taken the lead and followed senior players’ instructions, but I am sorry that I showed not nice behavior to football fans.”

“I will try to be a better player and person helping senior and older players from now on,” Lee wrote.

Son has not made any public comment concerning the incident. CNN has reached out to his agency for comments.

On Thursday, a KFA advisory committee recommended the association fire Klinsmann for various reasons including his lack of leadership, not making enough efforts to discover new players, and for not spending enough time in South Korea while taking the job.

Klinsmann seemed to question his team’s resolve after the Jordan loss, saying opponents “wanted it more.”