‘King without hands’ after all… ‘Hot potato’ Lee Kang-in’s ace play

It was a game that proved the phrase ‘Lee Kang-in is king in Son Heung-min’s absence’ to be true. Despite the loss to Peru, Lee proved why he is a midfielder coveted by big European clubs, as he was the standout performer for both sides.

Jürgen Klinsmann’s men lost 0-1 at home to Peru in their June A match trial at the Busan Asiad Stadium on 16 June at 8pm.

South Korea national football team midfielder Lee Kang-in became the first Korean to record double-digit attacking points in La Liga this season with six goals and six assists in 36 Spanish La Liga games (33 starts and three substitutions) for his club Mallorca, playing 2840 minutes.

He was also nominated for La Liga Midfielder of the Year for the 2022-2023 season. Lee’s consistent performances, which saw him play more than double the amount of minutes he did last season, helped Mallorca finish the league in ninth place, their highest finish since the 2011-2012 season (eighth). The Mallorca fans showed their gratitude by chanting Lee’s name during the league final on 5 May.

After a fantastic season, Lee has been heavily linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the French Ligue 1, a league that features world-class stars such as Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Ashraf Hakimi. It is understood that personal agreements have been reached and the only thing left to do is to finalise the details between Paris Saint-Germain and Mallorca.

Lee Kang-in, the hottest star in the current squad, was South Korea’s ace in the hole against Peru on a day when Son Heung-min was left out of the starting line-up due to the after-effects of sports hernia surgery.

Lee opened the scoring in the seventh minute when he dribbled past three Peruvian players on the right flank, drawing a foul.

In the 26th minute, he saw Lee Jae-sung penetrating into the opposition box and sent a long left-footed pass from the right near the halfway line. It was caught by the goalkeeper, but it was a great display of Lee’s vision.

Lee Kang-in’s best moment came in the first half. In the 33rd minute, Lee received a pass from Hwang Hee-chan on the right flank of the Peruvian box, took a touch to the centre and curled a left-footed shot. It was such a threatening shot that Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gueyeze had to scramble to save it. Lee also won a free-kick in first-half stoppage time with a brilliant run in front of the Peruvian box and was a key passer for South Korea as he moved between the left flank and midfield.

Lee also scored with his head in the second half. In the 28th minute, Hwang Hee-chan sent in a left-footed cross from the left flank of the Peruvian box. In the space 안전놀이터 on the right side of the box created by Cho Kyu-sung’s defence in front of him, Lee Kang-in took the one-bound header. Unfortunately, he was denied by a diving save from Peruvian goalkeeper Gueyes. In the 32nd minute, it looked like a repeat of Lee Kang-in’s goal against Ghana at the World Cup in Qatar when a left-footed ball from the right side of the Peruvian box was met by Cho Kyu-sung’s header, but his shot went just wide of the left post.

Although South Korea lost to Peru, Lee Kang-in was arguably the ace in the hole for South Korea. It was a perfect example of the phrase ‘when Son Heung-min is out, Lee Kang-in is king’.

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