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Tea Leaves

Biggest challenge for Asia's star athletes is Western stereotypes

Sports fans refer to many in condescending terms

South Korea's Son Heung-min, right, has become a poster boy for the most popular soccer league in the world. His face was recently emblazoned on billboards in British cities alongside that of Hollywood icon Tom Hanks. (Photo by John Duerden)

Over the years, my job covering Asian sport has sometimes brought smiles of sympathy from counterparts in other continents. Take soccer: South America sees itself as a passionate hotbed, Europe attracts the best-quality players, while Africa has the raw talent. And Asia? The cultures are seen as fascinating, but the players have never been lauded for their talent.

Until now. South Korea's Son Heung-min has been widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting and explosive players in world soccer, challenging the traditional stereotype of Asian soccer players as hardworking, energetic and team-spirited, but lacking in flair and creativity.

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