DOHA: Son Heung-min will be able to play in South Korea's opening World Cup match against Uruguay on Thursday despite wearing a mask after facial surgery, coach Paulo Bento said.
The Spurs attacker and South Korean skipper had surgery earlier this month after suffering a fracture around his left eye in a collision during a Champions League game.
"Son can play and will be able to play," Bento said on Wednesday.
It remains to be seen to what extent the South Korean talisman features, with the Portuguese boss cautioning: "He knows and we know that after this injury we cannot take any risks."
The 30-year-old Son has been training in Qatar in a mask and South Korean fans have been eagerly awaiting updates on his fitness.
At one training session in Doha the mask appeared to be troubling Son as he went through fitness drills with the rest of the squad.
Bento insisted the mask was "natural" for the player, who has scored 35 times in more than 100 internationals and shared the Premier League Golden Boot last season with Liverpool's Mo Salah.
"The fact he will be wearing a mask is not inconvenient for him," said Bento.
"We have stuck to the plan since we arrived here, also the way we integrated him into our group shows he has been natural.
"We will see tomorrow how it will be. Our hope is that he will feel comfortable as far as possible."
Wolves forward Hwang Hee-chan is, however, unlikely to feature because of a hamstring problem.
Uruguay, who boast veteran attackers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, plus younger talents such as Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez, will be favourites to win the opening Group H match.
But coach Diego Alonso said the two-time winners would be wary of South Korea whether or not Son is involved.
"Obviously Korea do not only have this player," he said. "I have lots of respect for Son, but Korea also have other players, they are very well trained, have a good coach, a very good XI, we respect everyone."
After Lionel Messi's Argentina were on the end of a shock loss to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, veteran captain Diego Godin said Uruguay would have to "tread carefully".
The Koreans reached the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup, which they jointly hosted with Japan, but failed to get beyond the group stage at the past two tournaments.
"We have a lot of respect for our opponents, we know we're up against a great team," said Godin. "They're very competitive, they're very dynamic, with good individual players who also have a particular way of playing."
The 36-year-old is one of a number of veterans for Uruguay playing in their fourth World Cup, alongside Cavani, Suarez, Fernando Muslera and Martin Caceres.
But they also have impressive Real Madrid star Valverde and fellow midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, Son's team-mate at Tottenham. -- AFP