President Yoon Suk-yeol awarded Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), the first Asian to lead the English Premier League (EPL) in scoring, with the Cheongnyong Medal, the highest Order of Sports Merit, on June 2.
President Yoon gave the honor to Son at Seoul World Cup Stadium in the city's Mapo-gu District, where a friendly match between the national soccer team and Brazil was played.
The presidential office said, "Son raised the nation's status by becoming the first Asian to score more than 100 goals in a big European league, winning Premier League Player of the Month three times and leading the EPL in scorer," adding, "He gave Koreans much to rejoice and be proud of at a difficult time due to the coronavirus pandemic."
Last season, Son scored 23 goals in 35 EPL games and shared the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah of Liverpool as the league's leading scorer. Son is also the first Asian to lead one of Europe's top five leagues, namely those in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, in scoring.
The administration in a Cabinet meeting approved the award for the player. The Cheongnyong is the most prestigious of the five Order of Sports Merit medals and recognizes individual excellence in sports or contributions to promoting national sports.
Son is the sixth person to receive the honor, following Sohn Kee-chung in athletics, Sim Kwon-ho in wrestling, Um Hong-gil in mountaineering and Kim Yuna in figure skating. Former national soccer coach Guus Hiddink also got the award.
President Yoon also joined about 60,000 fans at the stadium to watch the Korea-Brazil friendly, which was held to mark the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, a tournament that saw Korea advance to the semifinals. Brazil, the International Federation of Association Football's (FIFA) top-ranked team in the world, won, 5-1.
President Yoon also had dinner with members of the 2002 national team and their coach Hiddink.