Is it Batman? Is it Superman? No, it’s Son Heung-min flying down the wing for South Korea. Or could it be Josko Gvardiol from Croatia?
Watching this year’s World Cup, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the pair for masked vigilantes. But they are two of many players wearing superhero-like masks at this year’s tournament.
And no, it’s not part of some elaborate celebration routine. Son was wearing the mask – which covered his eyes and nose – as a protective measure.
The 30-year-old suffered a fractured eye socket during Tottenham’s win against Marseille in the Champions League on November 1 and therefore faced a race to be fit to feature in Qatar.
Such is the level of medical science, Son had not only recovered in time – with the help of the mask – but had also played every single minute as South Korea qualified for the knockout phase of the competition following a dramatic 2-1 upset win over Portugal. The Taegeuk Warriors eventually fell to Brazil 4-1 in the round of 16.
After playing in Korea’s opening game of the World Cup against Uruguay – the first in the mask – Son said he felt “comfortable.”
“I’m just happy that with the mask, I can play,” Son told reporters, per Reuters.
But Son wasn’t the only player to be playing at the World Cup wearing a protective mask.
Gvardiol has also been wearing one, due to a nose and eye problem from a head clash for his club RB Leipzig in Germany.
Tunisia’s Ellyes Skhiri broke his cheekbone in October for FC Köln in Germany, so he also wore a mask that covered his nose and sides of his face.
And Iran’s goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand kept a mask on during practices – choosing not to wear it in games – after his head injury against England in Iran’s first group game. He missed Iran’s second Group B match against Wales but played maskless against the US in the team’s final group stage match.
These types of masks have been common over recent years to protect players recovering from facial injuries.
Earlier this season, Germany defender Antonio Rüdiger wore a similar mask to Son’s after he took a knee to the face while playing for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
Over recent years, we’ve seen some of Son’s luminaries such as Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski, Victor Osimhen and Sergio Ramos all wear masks on the pitch.