South Korea need Son to shine at Asian Cup
Spurs star's presence makes Taeguk Warriors one of the favourites for Asian Cup
South Korea are hoping Son Heung Min's dazzling pace and goals can help them end a 59-year wait to be crowned continental kings as the newly expanded Asian Cup starts on Saturday.
Holders Australia, four-time winners Japan, Carlos Queiroz's Iran and hosts the United Arab Emirates are all formidable opponents, but none will relish facing Paulo Bento's Koreans.
The 2015 runners-up have put their stamp on the international scene in recent times, stunning holders Germany at last year's World Cup before winning the Asian Games football tournament in September.
Son, 26, was at the heart of both successes and his delight was plain to see at the Asian Games in Indonesia, where victory earned the team an exemption from South Korea's compulsory, 21-month military service.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward, who has a deadly shot with either foot, has been in scorching form for his club, scoring seven goals in his last seven English Premier League games.
But he will sit out South Korea's first two games next week, under a deal with his club in return for his release for last year's Asian Games.
Son, the most prolific Asian in EPL history, will hope South Korea get the job done against the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan before he jets in for their final Group C clash against China on Jan 16.
The Koreans, edged 2-1 by Australia after the 2015 final went to extra time, haven't won the Asian Cup since 1960 - a puzzling record considering their 10 World Cup appearances, including the 2002 semi-finals.
Japan are among their chief rivals in UAE, after they were the only Asian side to reach last year's World Cup knockout rounds before narrowly going down to Belgium in the last 16.
The Samurai Blue, winners of four of the last seven editions, will demand improvements on 2015, when, as defending champions, they slipped up with a penalty shoot-out loss to UAE in the last eight.
Recent results have been encouraging, including a 4-3 win over Uruguay, and coach Hajime Moriyasu has picked on form after ditching World Cup stars Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki in favour of younger players.
Australia, however, seem to have gone backwards since they lifted the trophy in Sydney in 2015, and it's a tall order for new coach Graham Arnold, who is plunged into the title defence just four games into the job.
After record scorer Tim Cahill retired, Arnold's predicament worsened last month when midfield linchpin Aaron Mooy suffered a serious knee injury and was ruled out of tournament.
Three-time winners Iran look much more settled, and after winning plaudits for their narrow 1-0 defeat by Spain and 1-1 draw with Portugal at the World Cup, Carlos Queiroz's side have gone unbeaten in their six games since.
The UAE received a body blow with the loss of playmaker Omar Abdulrahman to a knee injury, but they have plenty of firepower and are redoubtable on home ground, where they were runners-up as hosts in 1996. - AFP
Trio’s return will make improve Thais, says vice-captain
The return of Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan and Chanathip Songkrasin may force Thailand to make a few tactical tweaks, but vice-captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew said their experience will only improve the team's chances at the Asian Cup.
Teerasil, who missed out on Thailand's Asean Football Federation Championship campaign last month, was named captain by coach Milovan Rajevac for the continental championship in the United Arab Emirates.
The 30-year-old striker, who is the only surviving member from Thailand's last Asian Cup appearance in 2007, has scored 42 goals in 95 appearances, while fullback Theerathon and midfielder Chanathip in allow them to be more adventurous going forward.
"It is good to have them back in the squad. We are stronger with them in the team," Chalermpong told the Bangkok Post.
"However, this means that we have to make certain adjustments to our tactics and we are getting used to the changes.
"The good thing is that the weather here isn't much different from Thailand, so we have adjusted well to the conditions here."
Thailand face India in their Group A opener on Sunday before meeting Bahrain and hosts UAE. - REUTERS
Leonard inspires Raptors with career-high 45 pts
Kawhi Leonard poured in a career-high 45 points to lead the Toronto Raptors to a 122-116 NBA victory over the Utah Jazz yesterday morning (Singapore time).
With the win, the Raptors improved to 28-11, keeping the pressure on the Milwaukee Bucks who boosted their league-leading record in terms of winning percentage to 26-10 with a 121-98 victory over Detroit.
The Raptors were again without the injured Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry - whose return remains uncertain after he received anti-inflammatory injections to combat back pain last week.
In their absence, Leonard excelled, making all seven of his field-goal attempts in the third quarter as he scored 19 points in the period and the Raptors - who trailed by two at half-time - pulled away.
After making just two three-pointers in the first half, the Raptors connected on their first three from beyond the arc in the third to seize control of the contest.
They took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, and while the Jazz managed to cut the deficit to as few as four, they couldn't get any closer.
"They're a well-coached team, they've got great guys on their team that compete every possession," Leonard said.
"We just tried to stay in it till the end of the game. We had to get some stops on the defensive end and try to come back and execute on the offensive end - it was a good win for us tonight."
Pascal Siakam contributed a career-best 28 points with 10 rebounds for the Raptors and Norman Powell added 14 points off the bench as Toronto improved to 28-11. - AFP
OTHER RESULTS: Milwaukee Bucks 121 Detroit Pistons 98, Denver Nuggets 115 NY Knicks 108, LA Clippers 113 Philadephia 76ers 119, Sacramento Kings 108 Portland Trail Blazers 113 (OT).
Rusada sanctions: Wada’s next step on Jan 14-15
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) on Tuesday said that Russian authorities had failed to provide access to laboratory doping data by their year-end deadline and it will consider sanctions against the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada).
Rusada was stripped of its accreditation in 2015 after a Wada-commissioned report found evidence of widespread state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics.
But it was conditionally - and controversially - reinstated in September.
"I am bitterly disappointed that data extraction from the former Moscow Laboratory has not been completed by the date agreed by Wada's (executive committee) in September 2018," said Wada president Craig Reedie.
"Since then, Wada has been working diligently with the Russian authorities to meet the deadline..."
Wada said the independent Compliance Review Committee will now consider the next step at a Jan 14-15 meeting. - REUTERS