“For Paris Saint-Germain, for our game plan, Lee Kang-in is a midfielder first and foremost.”
Although he plays on the flanks for the South Korean national team, he is a midfielder at Paris Saint-Germain. Enrique spoke publicly about how he plans to use Lee in the midfield.
Paris Saint-Germain will play Strasbourg in the ninth round of the 2023-24 French Ligue 1 at their home stadium, the Parc des Princes, in Paris, France, on Sept. 22 (KST). Paris Saint-Germain has been the absolute number one in France with its overwhelming power, but since Enrique’s appointment, the club has changed its squad lineup and is currently in third place in the league.
In the UEFA Champions League, they’ve been drawn in a group of death with Dortmund and Newcastle United. They’ve built a team around Kylian Mbappe, but they’re rebuilding, so they’re not the European powerhouse they once were. They need three points against Strasbourg to turn things around.
Ahead of the Strasbourg game, Enrique talked about how he plans to use Lee Kang-in. “Since joining Paris Saint-Germain, he has proven his quality,” Enrique said at the official press conference. The same is true for the national team.”
Lee developed his talents in the Valencia youth team. He excelled at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, where he won Asia’s first Golden Ball for his performances in the second top and attacking midfield. He then returned to Valencia to compete for a starting spot, but was benched due to off-field issues and left for Mallorca.
In his first season in Mallorca, he settled in and soared in his second season. Moving from the flanks to the center, he led Mallorca’s attack and became the first South Korean to record double-digit attacking points in the Primera Liga. He was linked with the likes of Atletico Madrid in the winter transfer window, but decided to take up the challenge at Paris Saint-Germain.
On joining Paris Saint-Germain, he said, “It’s a team I’ve known since I was a kid. Paris Saint-Germain is one of the best teams in the world. They have the best players in the world. I can’t wait to start my adventure with Paris Saint-Germain, I want to win every game and help them win as many titles as possible,” he said.
“I am a midfielder who can play right or left winger. I can play in different positions. He is comfortable on the ball. He has a great desire to win. I want to contribute to the team and help them win. I am honored to be the first Korean in the history of Paris Saint-Germain. I’m playing for Korea and I’m playing for Paris Saint-Germain. I will always do my best to show my best on the pitch,” he said.
After joining Paris Saint-Germain, Lee Kang-in trained with his teammates in a cheerful atmosphere. Neymar, who was also in the team’s training session, smiled at Lee and had fun with him. The rest of the team, including Mbappe, who was given extra rest after the A match, also joined the team for a full-scale team training.
Neymar played in a preseason friendly against Le Havre (France) at PSG’s Paris campus. He led the team’s attack from the right wing and had a sharp performance, wearing the number 19 shirt. He was joined by Luca Hernandez, Marco Asensio, and Manuel Ugarte.
Paris Saint-Germain continued their attacking work through Lee Kang-In, and his passing was brilliant as he moved between the flanks and the center. He linked up well with the fullbacks on the flanks and exchanged fluid passes. His passing into space and pressing was as good as we saw in Mallorca.
However, he complained of hamstring pain just before halftime. Lee suddenly grabbed his thigh in the 43rd minute. He sprinted forward during a Paris Saint-Germain counterattack, overloaded, and went to the bench in discomfort. French outlet Footmercato also reported, “Lee Kang-in is injured. Paris Saint-Germain freshman Lee Kang-In played very well against Le Havre, but ended up leaving the game early. He suffered a hamstring injury and left the field just before halftime. We now need to check his injury status.”
Lee participated in the Japan tour, but didn’t play with his Paris Saint-Germain teammates. The same goes for Neymar, who was on the team at the time. Paris Saint-Germain didn’t have the resources to supply creative passes from the second line. It was only when Marco Verratti came in as a third midfielder that they got some breathing room.
Since then, he’s been working hard to recover from his injury and be fit for the opener. He hadn’t been 100% in preseason due to injury, but it was a mild tease in the opener. In the 12th minute, he surprised the Paris Saint-Germain home fans with a sharp killer pass. He also attempted a daring shot, but was caught by the Lorient defense and failed to register an attacking point.
As a starter in the opener, he played 82 minutes on the pitch. He completed 86% of his passes and touched the ball 58 times. European soccer statisticians, including Footmob, gave him high marks and named him Man of the Match (MOM). He was the only bright spot in an otherwise stifling Paris Saint-Germain attack.
The French Ligue 1 also gave Lee a thumbs up. In choosing him as their Man of the Match, they said, “He enjoyed the space that Lionel Messi was playing in brilliantly. The Paris Saint-Germain players would have been happy with his performance. Hamus, along with Asensio and others, played with the attacking support of Ighalo. He energized the Paris Saint-Germain attack with his wide-ranging influence. He deserves to be praised.”
He also started the second leg. However, it wasn’t a position where he could fully utilize his strengths. He was deployed on the left flank, but in more of a wing-back role. He didn’t get along with Fabian Luis. Enrique opted for a tactical change at the start of the second half, bringing on Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.
In the third leg, the debate over starters and substitutes was compounded by injury. Paris Saint-Germain have made it known that they are committed to his recovery until at least the A-match period in September. Local media outlet Le Parisien predicted a return by mid-September. Lee is expected to spend around four weeks trying to get back to full fitness.
Later, Paris Saint-Germain announced on their official website last month that “Lee Kang-in has sustained an injury to his left quadriceps. He will continue his treatment until at least the end of the next A-match period.”
Head coach Hwang Sun-hong spoke about Lee’s status at a training session in Changwon. When asked about Lee, Hwang said, “When I received the official mail, I heard that his recovery is fast. I exchanged letters with Paris Saint-Germain and they said they would give me a final answer on the 13th.”
“I have been in personal contact with Lee Kang-in and have been communicating with him. I understand he has been training with Ball since this week. We are focusing on the weekend games after the A-match in September. Paris Saint-Germain is thinking of playing one league game and then joining the Asian Games. We want to be there as soon as possible. It’s a problem to be solved,” he explained.
However, there was an anomaly in Paju’s training ahead of their departure for Hangzhou. When asked about Lee Kang-in’s departure, he said, “I’m also a little frustrated. I’ve been communicating with him personally, and he wants to join us as soon as possible, but the timing of his departure from Paris Saint-Germain doesn’t seem to be coordinated. The federation is in close communication with Paris Saint-Germain. We hope that a decision will be made soon so that he can fully commit to the team.”
The timing of his arrival has not been perfectly negotiated either. “I was hoping to have him at least one or two games before the Asian Games group stage, but it’s not working out. It seems that Paris Saint-Germain is putting forward a lot of conditions. The Asian Cup qualifiers in January next year could be (one of the conditions). I would personally like to see him join us then rather than later.” At the time of the interview in Paju, it was unclear whether the team would even make it to the round of 16 beyond the group stage.
A total of 23 teams competed in the Hangzhou Asian Games. Four teams are grouped into five groups, with only Group D having three teams in the same group. The 12 first- and second-place finishers in each group, and the top four third-place finishers in each group, advanced through the group stage to the round of 16 tournament, where they would compete for the title.
Defending champions South Korea were among the six nations in Group 1. Hosts China and the top five finishers from the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games were seeded. The draw was made in the order of Group 4, Group 3, Group 2, and Group 1, and Hwang Sun-hong’s men were drawn into Group E, which included Kuwait, Thailand, and Bahrain.
Afterwards, French media outlet L’Equipe said, “Lee Kang-in has been the center of attention in South Korea. But now he is finally competing in the Asian Games. He was cleared by Paris Saint-Germain on the 14th. He will be traveling to China in the next few hours.”
“The decision was made through talks between the player, his agent and the Paris Saint-Germain club. Lee’s agent said, ‘We are grateful to the club for managing the situation and helping the player. We are all happy with the outcome,’ Lee said.”
European transfer market expert Fabrizio Romano added: “As I understand it, Paris Saint-Germain have given the green light for Lee to be sent to the Asian Games. Paris Saint-Germain are expected to send Lee Kang-in to the 2023 Asian Games.”
The Korea Football Association said in a press release, “As a result of discussions with Lee Kang-in’s club, Paris Saint-Germain, it was finally agreed on Thursday night that Lee Kang-in will join the Asian Games team after the club’s European Champions League home match against Dortmund on Sept. 19 (local time). Lee will travel to Hangzhou, China, to join the Asian Games team on Sept. 20,” said the statement.
“The Korea Football Association received an email from Paris Saint-Germain on the 13th to allow Lee to play in the Asian Games, subject to rescheduling the Asian Cup, and then held discussions with the Paris club until late at night on the 14th, and finally received an official response from the Paris club on the 14th to allow Lee to join the Asian Games squad on the 20th without any other preconditions.”
Lee joined Hangzhou ahead of their second group game against Thailand. He gradually improved his form and was ready for the third game. He combined with his teammates in coach Hwang Sun-hong’s rotation, and the Korean men’s soccer team beat Japan 2-1 in the final of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games at Huanglong Sports Center Stadium in Hangzhou, China. The result gives China five Asian Games titles (1970, 1978, 1986, 2014, 2018), the most of any country in history, and the first three in a row.
Hwang Sun-hong changed his lineup for the final. With Cho Young-wook as the main frontline striker, he deployed Jung Woo-young and Lee Kang-in Go Young-joon in the second line. In the midfield, he chose Hong Hyun-seok to partner captain Baek Seung-ho. Park chose Park Kyu-hyun over Seol Young-woo for the left back position, along with Hwang Jae-won at right back and Lee Han-beom and Park Jin-seop at center back. Lee Kwang-yeon remained in goal.
It didn’t start well. Japan broke down the right flank guarded by Hwang Jae-won and sent a cross forward, which Kotaro Uchino finished with a right-footed shot. It was the first goal Korea had conceded in the tournament.
But South Korea was determined to come back. South Korea equalized in the 26th minute of the first half. Once again, top scorer Jung Woo-young was the solution. A ball saved by Baek Seung-ho was crossed by Hwang Jae-won, and Jung Woo-young, who was on the other side of the box, rattled the Japanese net with a header.
In the second half, Korea changed the momentum with a goal. Hwang Jae-won dribbled alone with two Japanese defenders behind him. When Jung Woo-young tried to catch the ball in the penalty box, Hwang Jae-won tangled with the Japanese defenders, and the onrushing Cho Young-wook didn’t miss the ball and roared it into the back of the net. The rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair, but in the end, Korea won.
When the news of South Korea’s gold medal broke, Paris Saint-Germain posted on its official page: “The South Korean Men’s National Football Team U-23, including Paris Saint-Germain’s Lee Kang-in, won the gold medal in the final of the Asian Games. We sincerely congratulate them on their victory.”
Later, Lee posted a photo of himself with the Asian Games gold medal around his neck on social media, and his Paris Saint-Germain teammates Kylian Mbappe and Kyler Navas congratulated him with a fireworks emoji. Neymar, who worked with Lee during this summer’s preseason, also reacted to the post and sent him a congratulatory message.
Lee joined the national team in October for an A-match trial after the Hangzhou Asian Games. He was deployed in central midfield against Tunisia, but was moved to the flanks during the match. “It wasn’t just in that game, but also in training,” he told reporters, “I felt more comfortable seeing him on the right side of the field with the team and at the Asian Games than in the center. We kept communicating. I don’t think we had a specific plan because our second-choice players can play all positions, but because Coach Klinsmann gave us the freedom, we had the opportunity to talk on the pitch and play comfortably. I think that worked in our favor against Tunisia, and as we continue to find those combinations, I think it’s the job of the second line to figure out where each other plays best.”
Against Vietnam, he played as a flanking midfielder. At the back, Lee Jae-sung, Hwang Hee-chan, Lee Kang-in, and Son Heung-min provided firepower with switching play, backed by Park Yong-woo. The back four was Kim Min-jae, Jung Seung-hyun, Seol Young-woo, and Lee Ki-je, while Cho Hyun-woo wore the goalkeeping gloves.
Korea pushed Vietnam from the start. In the fifth minute of the first half, Kim Min-jae opened the scoring with a header from a corner kick that rattled the net. Vietnam tried to take control of the offense in search of a goal, but were outplayed in physicality and basic ball touches.
South Korea did not let up as they increased their ball possession. Lee Kang-in, Hwang Hee-chan, and others tried to exploit Vietnam’s gaps with various pattern plays and switches. Hwang Hee-chan had a shot on goal that was blocked by the defense. In the 15th minute of the first half, Lee Kang-in received the ball, turned and shot just wide, sending the 40,000 fans into a roar.
Vietnam made intermittent attacks but did not threaten Korea. After the Koreans managed to stop one Vietnamese attack, they settled down and attacked from the back. Vietnam threatened in the 23rd minute of the first half. It wasn’t clean, but the Vietnamese were able to take advantage of a gap in the Korean defense and get a shot off. However, it was inaccurate and went wide of the goal.
South Korea responded immediately. Vietnam defended in the box, but the Koreans took the pressure off with fluid dribbling and passing. Son Heung-min followed up with a shot, but the ball floated out of play. Hwang Hee-chan then opened the scoring. In the 27th minute, he calmly collected a ball from Lee Jae-sung at the 2.5 line and slotted it into the Vietnamese goal. Spurred on by the goal, Hwang Hee-chan made a bold break from the flank and sent a cross to the head of Cho Kyu-sung.
Despite being down two goals, Vietnam did not back down. In the 30th minute, they drove down the right flank and took a shot on goal. South Korea responded in the 32nd minute with a goal from Son Heung-min, who fed Lee Kang-in with a quick pass half a beat to the penetrating Cho Kyu-sung. In the 35th minute, Lee sent chills down Vietnam’s spine with a free kick from the front of the box that was as sharp as the one against Tunisia.
South Korea continued to dominate and Vietnam seemed to focus on defense. Hwang Hee-chan dribbled and created space on the left flank to spark the Korean attack. Son Heung-min added to the Korean firepower from his attacking midfield spot and pushed the defense. Just before halftime, Lee Jae-sung got a shot off after breaking through, but it was saved by the Vietnamese goalkeeper.
Korea tasted another goal at the second half whistle. Two minutes into the second half, Cho Kyu-sung and Son Heung-min exchanged one-two passes that caught the Vietnamese defense off balance. Son Heung-min pushed the ball toward the goal, where Cho Kyu-sung and Bo Min-tsong competed for the ball, and it hit Bo Min-tsong’s foot, resulting in an own goal. Vietnam received the ball in the Korean zone in search of an equalizer, but did not create an easy chance.
South Korea tried a different pattern on a corner kick, with Son Heung-min hitting it low. Vietnam also tried to find an opening from a set piece. In the 12th minute, Son Heung-min tried to finish a ball from Cho Kyu-sung in the box with a header, but it didn’t threaten.
In the 15th minute of the second half, captain Son Heung-min rattled the net. Son picked up the ball in the box and roared as he slotted it home with his right foot. After scoring, he celebrated by doing a little dance with the 40,000 fans in Suwon.
Klinsmann brought on Hwang Eui-jo and Jung Woo-young to test another attacking combination. In the 23rd minute of the second half, Lee Kang-in rattled the net with a calm shot to set the tone. It was a sharp shot after receiving a pass from Son Heung-min and driving the Vietnamese defense.
Son Heung-min is the current face of South Korea’s attack. He has been leading the team since the 2018 World Cup in Russia, wearing the captain’s armband. He’s been the mental anchor, and he’s also been impressive with his goals at key moments. He’s also a top-class player in the Premier League, breaking countless records.
Lee Kang-in is the future of South Korea”s attack. He came up through the Valencia youth system and has a sharp left foot. He showed flashes of talent at the U-20 World Cup and the World Cup in Qatar. This summer, he joined Paris Saint-Germain and has been playing alongside world-class players.
Many envisioned Lee Kang-in setting up Son Heung-min and Son Heung-min setting up Lee Kang-in and Lee Kang-in finishing. In the run-up to the Asian Cup, the two players’ joint goal against Vietnam was on the pitch.
“We want to utilize Lee Kang-in,” Klinsmann said. He’s at the starting line in his career at Paris Saint-Germain. To be honest, I don’t think he’s a starter every game. Paris Saint-Germain is a different team. He’ll want playing time. I want to help him prove himself in the national team and give him a good start. I want to give him as much playing time as possible.”
However, Enrique plans to play him in midfield rather than on the flanks. “For Paris Saint-Germain, and in our game plan, his priority is to play in midfield,” he said.
Of course, he also mentioned additional options, as he can play in two different positions. “He can play as a winger, a false nine, a shadow striker,” Enrique said. He is a goalscorer and has a great talent for the final pass. He’s a very interesting player,” he said. 안전놀이터
Now he has to play a different role for the national team and Paris Saint-Germain. For the national team, he’ll play on the flank, a position he’s been comfortable with since his time in Mallorca, but for Paris Saint-Germain, he’ll have to play in the midfield. For Lee, midfield is the right place for him to be competitive at Paris Saint-Germain. Paris Saint-Germain have two of the best wingers in the world in Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele.