With or without Son Heung-min, South Korea can show how far they've come in FIFA World Cup clash with Uruguay

Son Heung-min has committed to wearing a protective mask following a facial fracture in order to be part of South Korea's 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign, although it remains to be seen if coach Paulo Bento will start him against Uruguay on Thursday. Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar -- South Korea coach Paulo Bento has said Son Heung-min can play in their 2022 FIFA World Cup opener against Uruguay on Thursday.

Whether he will remains to be seen.

Still recovering from a facial fracture that required surgery while on club duty with Tottenham at the start of November, Son has been training with a protective mask and has declared that he will be comfortable playing with it.

It does however remain to be seen if he will be risked by coach Bento with two more games coming up after the Uruguay tie, especially given he has not played a full 90 minutes since that nasty injury.

Regardless of whether the Tottenham star takes to the field at Education City Stadium, the South Koreans still have a statement to issue -- regarding how far they have come since the last World Cup four years ago -- against top-quality opposition.

The emergence of Son means that South Korea -- and Asian football -- now boasts the rare claim of having a world-class player in their midst.

So it does seem high time that one of the continent's representatives use the perfect platform of a World Cup to emerge as a world-class team. Or at least takes a significant step in that direction.

Since the famous South Korea side of 2002 finished fourth under Guus Hiddink, only on four occasions has an Asian team made it out of the group stage at a World Cup. Out of 18 appearances.

Forget reaching the last four again. Even a quarterfinal berth has not been forthcoming in the past two decades.

It is a rather disappointing record for a continent who has taken great strides in recent years, with a plethora of Asian players now not only plying their trade in Europe -- but starring for their respective teams.

South Korea certainly have their fair share.

Apart from Son, centre-back Kim Min-jae has been a revelation in Serie A since joining Napoli, Hwang Hee-chan is currently struggling for form at Wolves but did have a brilliant spell previously with Red Bull Salzburg, while Lee Jae-sung and Jeong Woo-yeong are both catching the eye in the Bundesliga with Mainz and Freiburg respectively.

Out of Asia's five representatives at Qatar 2022 (six including Asian Football Confederation member Australia), South Korea arguably look the best chance of qualifying from their group -- which looks an evenly-matched affair with Portugal and Ghana also contending.

The Taegeuk Warriors already gave a glimpse of what they can do at the last World Cup when they pulled off a memorable 2-0 win over Germany that eliminated the then-defending champions, although it was ultimately not enough for a Round of 16 berth after they had left themselves with just too much to do after one point from their opening two games.

They can ill afford another slow start if they are to avoid similar disappointment of a hasty group-stage elimination.

With or without their world-class star player in the starting XI against Uruguay on Thursday, South Korea can -- and must -- start to show they are ready to take strides forward on the biggest stage of all.