Can in-form Son Heung-min ignite lackluster Korea Republic?

Since making his international debut in 2010, Son Heung-min is fast closing in on a century of caps for Korea Republic and is coming off a career-best season which saw him net 22 goals in all competition for Tottenham. Marcio Machado/Getty Images

At first glance, Korea Republic's quest to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup offers little to be concerned about. Top of their group in the second round of Asian qualifiers and unbeaten in three matches.

Yet delve deeper and this has been far from the dominant campaign expected of the Taegeuk Warriors.

Thankfully for them, as they return to qualifying action on Saturday evening after a break of almost two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they can look to one of world football's biggest names right now for inspiration: Son Heung-min.

- AFC World Cup qualifying table
- Full fixtures and results

Since 1986, Korea Republic have reached nine consecutive FIFA World Cups.

When they co-hosted the tournament in 2002, they achieved a monumental fourth-place finish. Just last time out in 2018, they pulled off a stunning win over Germany that booted the then-champions out of the tournament at the group stage.

It should be expected that the South Koreans are among the four Asian nations that will definitely grace the 2022 edition. (A fifth Asian Football Confederation team will face opponents from another confederation in a playoff for an additional berth.)

While the current standings suggest they are on track -- level on seven points with Lebanon at the Group H summit - it would have been a far different story if not for the recent withdrawal of DPR Korea.

Prior to the North Koreans forfeiting all the matches they had been involved in, it was Turkmenistan who were leading the way with Korea Republic one of three teams tied in second spot, with all signs pointing towards a four-way battle for the top two.

With DPR Korea, who were shaping up as genuine challengers, now out of the picture, the South Koreans have a much clearer path to the next round.

Of course, the withdrawal of a rival team was not something Korea Republic could have planned for or banked on. The only thing they can control is getting the results they need - a task that becomes significantly easier with someone like Son at their disposal.

Turning 29 next month, the Tottenham forward is arguably approaching the peak of his powers and is coming off his most-prolific season ever, having netted a career-best 22 goals in all competition after striking up an unstoppable partnership with Harry Kane in the Premier League.

Son is certainly not the only star name that South Korea coach Paulo Bento can turn to.

Lee Jae-sung is coming off a season where he almost helped Holstein Kiel win promotion to the Bundesliga, Hwang Ui-jo continues to feature prominently for Bordeaux in Ligue 1, while Hwang Hee-chan was part of that famous Red Bull Salzburg triple act along with Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino that all earned big moves to European giants last year.

But Son is the only one who can claim to be of a world-class level, capable of moments of sheer individual brilliance like the goal against Burnley from two seasons back that won him the FIFA Puskas Award, while also allowing his teammates to stand taller when he is on the pitch with them.

Son is now just 11 caps away from becoming a centurion at international level, an accomplishment he should achieve by the time he features at the next World Cup.

Scratch that. If he features at the next World Cup, for none of Korea Republic's performances so far suggest it is a certainty they will qualify for Qatar 2022.

Still, if there is one man who can ignite their campaign and inspire the Taegeuk Warriors to playing to the level they are capable of, it is Son himself.