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AFC Asian Cup

Who is South Korea's budding star Lee Kang-in?

Published at :February 18, 2024 at 5:06 PM
Modified at :February 18, 2024 at 5:06 PM
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(Courtesy : AFC Media)

Atawaris Warsi

Lee Kang-in scored two goals for South Korea at the AFC Asian Cup 2023.

Lee Kang-in, born on February 19, 2001, is a dynamic South Korean footballer renowned for his exceptional skills and versatility on the field. Emerging from the youth ranks of Valencia CF, Lee has showcased his prowess as an attacking midfielder, earning accolades for his vision, precise passing, and goal-scoring ability.

A catalyst for South Korea in international arenas, his impact at the World Cup, particularly against Ghana, showcased his game-changing abilities. Now donning the colours of Paris Saint-Germain, Lee Kang-In emerges as the talismanic figure poised to elevate South Korean football to new heights.

Prior Experience

Lee Kang-in’s remarkable journey in football began when he joined Valencia’s academy in July 2011. His ascent through the ranks saw him make his debut for Valencia B on 21 December 2017. Lee’s breakthrough to the first team came in the 2018-19 season, with a notable Copa del Rey debut and subsequently becoming the second-youngest player in La Liga that season. His performance continued to rise in the 2019–20 season, marked by a historic UEFA Champions League debut and becoming Valencia’s youngest non-Spanish goal-scorer in La Liga.

Despite contract negotiations, Lee’s transfer to Mallorca in August 2021 signalled a new chapter. In the 2022-23 season, Lee’s prowess soared, making him one of the top dribblers in the Big Five European leagues. His football odyssey reached a pinnacle when Paris Saint-Germain secured his services in July 2023, making him the first South Korean to don the club’s colours. Lee’s PSG journey commenced with a memorable debut on native soil, followed by impactful performances in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

On the international stage, Lee’s accolades include a stellar performance in the 2019 U-20 World Cup, earning him the Golden Ball. His senior national team debut in 2019 marked the beginning of a promising international career, highlighted by key contributions in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and a pivotal role in South Korea’s Asian Games gold medal triumph in 2023, securing an exemption from mandatory military service. In a friendly against Tunisia, Lee showcased his brilliance, leading South Korea to a resounding 4-0 victory with two goals, emphasising his growing influence at the senior level.

Who is South Korea's budding star Lee Kang-in? AFC Asian Cup 2023
Lee Kang-in (#18) celebrating his goal against Bahrain. (Courtesy: AFC)

Type of Player

Lee Kang-in, despite his modest statistical output in Spain, emerges as a versatile and dynamic player. From his early days at Valencia to his recent contributions at PSG, Lee has evolved into a valuable asset. In the 2022-23 season, he showcased a significant improvement in goal contributions, achieving a career-best in both goals and assists.

Beyond the statistical lens, Lee’s standout feature lies in his exceptional dribbling skills. Fearlessly taking on defenders, he excels in attacking duels, showcasing his prowess in 1v1 situations. His crossing ability is notable, consistently finding his intended targets. Lee’s vision extends to creating opportunities with through-balls, highlighting his playmaking abilities.

A distinct aspect of his game is his expertise in set-pieces. His primary focus lies in delivering opportunities for his teammates. In essence, Lee Kang-in emerges not only as a goal contributor but also as a dynamic play-maker, showcasing versatility, vision, and proficiency in creating impactful moments on the field.

Who is South Korea's budding star Lee Kang-in? AFC Asian Cup 2023
Lee Kang-in trudging forward with the ball and aiming for a pass. (Courtesy: AFC)

What does he bring to the team?

With a proven track record in top European leagues and a recent impactful transition to Paris Saint-Germain, Lee brings a wealth of experience and newfound confidence to the table. Renowned for his exceptional dribbling, play-making vision, and set-piece expertise, Lee is poised to be a pivotal figure in South Korea’s attacking dynamics.

Having honed his skills in La Liga and Ligue 1, Lee’s ability to navigate through defences and create goal-scoring opportunities adds a dimension that can unlock opposing defences. His versatility and proficiency in delivering set-pieces may prove instrumental in crucial moments. As the youngest South Korean to debut professionally in Europe and a Golden Ball winner at the U-20 World Cup, Lee entered the recently concluded AFC Asian Cup with a reputation as a game-changer.

In the tournament, he featured in six matches and netted two goals and registered an assist.

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