The South Korean national soccer team (23rd in FIFA rankings), led by Jurgen Klinsmann, won 3-1 in the first Group E match of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Qatar Asian Cup against Bahrain (86th in FIFA rankings) at 8:30 p.m. on the 15th (Korea time) at Jasim bin Hamad Stadium in Alayyan, Qatar.
Lee Kang-in flew well. Lee Kang-in, who started the day, played as a right wing forward in a 4-4-2 formation. Korea struggled in the early part of the first half, but Hwang In-beom scored the first goal in the 37th minute of the first half to take the lead.
However, Bahrain’s counterattack was strong. Eventually, it became a 1-1 situation, giving up a run in the 5th minute of the second half. At a moment of crisis, Lee Kang-in saved the team. Coincidentally, Lee Kang-in played an active part after Lee Ki-je left in the 7th minute of the second half and Kim Tae-hwan was put in.
Kim Tae-hwan created an environment where Lee Kang-in could play more freely. With Kim Tae-hwan’s input, Kim Tae-hwan moved to the right wingback and Seol Young-woo to the left wingback where Lee Ki-je left. Kim Tae-hwan actively overlapped and dispersed the pressure that had been focused on Lee Kang-in.
Lee Kang-in immediately flew away. At the 11th minute of the second half, Lee Kang-in fired a fantastic mid-range shot from Kim Min-jae’s pass to make the score 2-1. Since then, Lee has freely crossed the left side and the center, distributing the ball through killer passes and side developments.
He even scored a wedge goal. At the 24th minute of the second half, Lee Kang-in took off the defense with a single painting after receiving Hwang In-beom’s pass, and finished with his left foot.
Spanish media also gave a thumbs up to Lee Kang-in’s performance. Spain’s ‘As’ said, “Lee Kang-in is the new soccer king of Asia. He created a madness that has been rarely seen before. It all melted down when Lee Kang-in passed by. In the match against Bahrain, he showed that he is the best soccer player.”
“Lee Kang-in pulled out his cane and performed magic. It was a score that reminded me of the greatest player (Messi) in history several times. Everything that Lee Kang-in touches has turned into gold,” he added.
While playing full-time for 90 minutes, Lee recorded three shots, two goals, 76 ball touches, 91 percent pass success rate (41/45), three key passes, six crosses (successful three times), three long passes (successful three times), three critical opportunities created three times, and 12 dribbling attempts (successful eight times). Soccer statistics media “Sopa Score” even gave Lee a 9.7 point rating.
“Son Heung-min finally has the perfect partner to lead South Korea to Asian Cup glory,” the global media ESPN said, adding, “Lee Kang-in has paved the way for a step further (to win the Asian Cup).”
With multiple goals on the day, Lee will have six goals and three assists in the six recent A-matches. Lee made his A-matches debut goal in October last year against Tunisia. At that time, Lee also scored multiple goals. In the match against Vietnam, he scored one goal and one assist, contributing to his team’s landslide 6-0 victory.
Lee Kang-in did not stop. He also started against Singapore and scored one goal and one assist, while Son Heung-min scored one assist on the road to China. Although he was sent off due to accumulation of warnings in the last friendly match against Iraq, he scored multiple goals against Bahrain to give South Korea its first win.
After the game, Lee Kang-in said, “No player or any coaching staff thought it would be an easy game. That’s how the game started. There were both good and bad points, but I think I should be able to show better performances and contents in the next game.”
Lee did not falter after the loss. “Whether it is a loss or a goal, we maintain the play we want to play. The team did not falter. When a goal is lost, the striker runs so that he can score a goal. I was happy to score a goal and win the game,” he said.
Now, Korea is facing Jordan. Jordan topped the group with a 4-0 defeat of Malaysia led by head coach Kim Pan-gon. “I will do my best to prepare for the next game as well. I will show you better performance and better results. Please continue to support me as I am now,” Lee said.