DOHA, Qatar — No, there aren't any costumed vigilantes running around at the World Cup, despite a couple of high-profile players wearing masks covering their faces during the competition.
Son Heung-Min, the captain of the South Korean team, has been wearing a superhero-like mask throughout the tournament. But the mask isn't part of some elaborate superhero outfit he's wearing to inspire fans. It's actually a protective measure.
When not leading the South Korean national team, the 30-year-old is a forward for the Tottenham Hotspurs — a British soccer team, It was during a match for the Hotspurs on Nov. 2 that he was hit in the face and suffered a fractured eye socket.
Son's injury led some analysts to question if he would be ready to play by the time the World Cup started, but he swung into action — wearing his new mask — in South Korea's opening match against Uruguay.
Although the mask isn't intended to be a superhero's trademark, many fans have taken to wearing the Batman-like masks, in solidarity with Son.
And Son isn't the only one sporting face-gear. Face masks are a relatively common tool in high-end soccer. They protect the face, especially the eyes and nose, from flying kicks and other hazards on the field.
Josko Gvardiol of Croatia has been wearing one too, to protect his face after a head clash during a game for Germany caused nose and eye problems. Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand also wore one to practice after injuring his head in a match against England, although he didn't wear his mask during any subsequent games.
According to the Guardian, the masks are made from polycarbonate plastics, and some are 3D-printed to fit the exact contours of an athlete's face.
“I’m just happy that with the mask, I can play,” Son told reporters, according to comments described by CNN.