‘Golden talent’ Lee Kang-in, 22, has finally been confirmed as a member of the Korean National Team for the Hangzhou 2023 Asian Games. His club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), has given him the green light.
“As a result of discussions with his club Paris Saint-Germain, it was finally agreed on Thursday night that Lee Kang-in will join the Asian Games team after the team’s home match against Dortmund in the first leg of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League group stage on May 19 (Korean time),” the Korea Football Association said on Friday. “Accordingly, Lee Kang-in will travel to Hangzhou, China, on the 20th of this month (local time in France) to join the Asian Games team,” the KFA added.
If Lee Kang-in is able to join Hwang Sun-hong as scheduled, it is unlikely that he will be available for the team’s second group game against Thailand on the 21st. That’s because of the time crunch. However, as he gets acclimatized in China, he could be available for the third group game against Bahrain on the 24th. All three games will be played at the Jinhua Sports Center Stadium in Zhejiang, China.
Lee is still recovering from his left quadriceps (thigh) injury, and with the time difference between Europe and China, his conditioning will be crucial. Therefore, the best-case scenario would be for South Korea to qualify for the round of 16 after just two group games and take as much pressure off Lee as possible. In this case, win or lose, Lee can approach the Bahrain game as a process of getting to know his teammates.
Lee Kang-in’s call-up to the Asian Games squad has a ‘happy ending’, but will it be the last?
Lee Kang-in is considered one of the best midfield options for the future of South Korean soccer. If Son Heung-min (Tottenham) is up front and Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich) is at the back, Lee Kang-in is in the middle.
In fact, Lee’s journey to the Asian Games has been full of twists and turns. In August, Lee was sidelined with a left quadriceps (thigh) injury. At the time, PSG stated that “Lee will have to dedicate himself to recovery until the end of the A-match”. As a soccer player, the thigh is a sensitive area, so there were concerns about his timing. If the injury was prolonged, he could have been ruled out of the Asian Games.
However, Lee’s recovery was quick, and he recently shook off the injury and returned to training with his team. On December 12, Paris Saint-Germain released a video of Lee training on the club’s social media accounts. The video shows Lee warming up at the club’s indoor training center using a cycling machine and bands. Later, he was seen outdoors, exchanging passes with his teammates and showing his normal physical condition. He also appeared to have no problems running with his teammates. He also played a mini-game and shot accurately at the goal.
On the same day, France Press Sport said, “It’s good news for Lee. If the injury doesn’t recur, he will return to Ligue 1 after the international break.” Lee’s return to action was largely due to his own determination. Earlier, Lee Kang-in was seen rehabbing four days after his injury was announced. At the time, Lee Kang-in looked serious and worked out with the club’s trainer on the equipment. He also expressed his determination to make a comeback to his fans. On the last three days, Lee Kang-in wrote “Soon” on his social media accounts, hinting at his return.
In fact, this is not his first injury. This is his second injury since joining PSG. In July, he suffered a muscle strain in his first preseason game against Le Havre (France), which ended with him being substituted off at halftime. Lee did not play a single game on the Japan tour, focusing solely on his recovery. Following the Japan tour, Lee took to the field for 20 minutes against Jeonbuk Hyundai in South Korea, but he wasn’t at full strength.
Luckily for Lee, he was able to start two consecutive Ligue 1 games as a striker and work with his teammates, especially against Lorient in the league opener on March 13, where he had 84 touches on the ball, an 88% pass success rate, and a 60% success rate on long passes. Although he did not record any offensive points, he also attempted three shots on goal, rattling the opposing defense. After the game, soccer statistician Sofascore gave Lee a rating of 7.3, and he was also named “The Player” by the Ligue 1 secretariat, which is the MVP award given to the player with the best performance.
An unexpected injury forced Lee to miss two consecutive A matches, but he was ‘all clear’ for the Asian Games.
However, due to a subsequent injury, Lee was unable to join Jürgen Klinsmann’s team for the two A matches in September (Wales and Saudi Arabia). He was also unable to join Hwang Sun-hong’s U-22 national team and Asian Games squad. In Lee’s absence, the U-22 team qualified for the 2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Asian Cup with a 2-0 record (6 points) in Group B, topping the group. South Korea’s fellow group member Myanmar, on the other hand, failed to qualify for the Asian Cup after drawing 1-1 with Kyrgyzstan (1 point). However, there were plenty of question marks about their performance.
South Korea got off to a shaky start with a 0-2 loss to Qatar, but fortunately, the Asian Cup hosts were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the result didn’t count against them in the standings. They went on to win 1-0 against Kyrgyzstan in the second game and 3-0 against Myanmar in the third game, ultimately topping the standings. However, many people were disappointed with the one-goal win against Kyrgyzstan, which is considered a weaker team than South Korea. Of course, it is difficult to make an accurate comparison because it is an adult national team, but Kyrgyzstan is ranked 97th in the FIFA rankings, which is a huge difference from South Korea (28th). Myanmar (160th in the FIFA rankings) is also a lower-quality team than South Korea, but South Korea only held a one-goal lead until the 80th minute after scoring an early goal. Furthermore, Qatar thrashed Myanmar 6-0, making it a simple comparison.
This is where Lee Kang-in came in. The addition of Lee Kang-in will be a huge boost for the team. In the two games against Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar, South Korea boasted an active flanking attack. With the addition of Lee Kang-in to the squad and the ability to play in the center of the field, South Korea will be even stronger.
The Asian Games soccer team will convene at Paju NFC on Thursday before traveling to Hangzhou for the final match on Saturday. When Lee joined PSG from Real Mallorca in the summer transfer window, he made it a condition of his contract to play in the Asian Games. “When Lee Kang-in signed his contract with PSG, they cleverly inserted a clause regarding his loan for the Asian Games,” said Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the Korean national soccer team. So there’s no problem with Lee participating in the Asian Games. However, the Asian Games are not a FIFA-organized tournament, so there is no mandatory loan to the national team. He had to coordinate with PSG about when he could join the national team.
PSG desperately need Lee to survive the ‘group of death’ Champions League…
It wasn’t without its challenges. The day before, national team coach Hwang Sun-hong said, “It’s frustrating that the timing of Lee Kang-in’s arrival hasn’t been decided.” “He wants to join us as soon as possible, but the timing doesn’t seem to be coordinated with his club, PSG,” Hwang said. “I hope he can play one or two games in the group stage and then enter the tournament. If he joins after that (after the group stage), it can be frustrating because you have to make different plans.” It was now just four days until the first match of the Asian Games group stage against Kuwait. Hwang will face Kuwait in a fateful first match on Nov. 19. Kuwait is a formidable opponent in the Middle East. While Korea is clearly the favorite in terms of objective strength, the road to the Asian Games has always been a difficult one. 메이저놀이터
Now that the A-match break is over, PSG will host OGC Nice in the fifth round of the 2023-24 French Ligue 1 on Sept. 16. Hwang said Lee will not play against Nice as he tries to regain his fitness. PSG is in second place in the league with two wins and two draws (8 points) this season. If Lee had boarded a plane to Hangzhou after this match, he could have joined the Asian Games squad and played in the first leg. However, that scenario is now off the table. PSG and Lee are now focused on their Champions League group stage first leg against Borussia Dortmund (Germany) on October 20. PSG have been drawn in a so-called ‘group of death’ alongside AC Milan (Italy) and Newcastle United (England) and will have to go all out. A strong performance from the midfield will be essential.
After playing this game, Lee traveled to Hangzhou, where he became available to play against Bahrain. It’s safe to say that Lee Kang-in is a key part of the Korean national soccer team at the Asian Games. However, he hasn’t had much time to work with the main squad. As Hwang hopes, he can make a big difference in the group stage games.
Lee Kang-in’s inclusion in the Asian Games squad also clears the air on the issue of when he will be called up for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar next January. In the past, Son Heung-min missed the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games and was a late addition to the 2019 UAE Asian Cup the following year, playing in the third match against China. But not Lee Kang-in. “After receiving an email from PSG on the 13th, which stated that they would allow Lee to play in the Asian Games subject to rescheduling the Asian Cup, we held discussions with PSG until late at night on the 14th,” the Korea Football Association said, “and finally received an official response from PSG on the 20th, which stated that they would allow Lee to join the Asian Games squad without any other preconditions.”
The Asian Games can be a career-defining event for an athlete. If you win a gold medal at the Asian Games, you will be eligible for military service. South Korea will be looking to make it three in a row after winning the 2014 Incheon Games and the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Games. At the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang, “team captain” Son Heung-min (Tottenham) and Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich) received military service benefits and are now dominating the European scene. Can Lee Kang-indo use the AG gold medal as a springboard for his European career to blossom?