Lee Kang-in led the national team to its first victory in the tournament with his multi-goal performance.
South Korea’s national soccer team, led by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, won 3-1 against Bahrain in the first round of Group E at the 2023 AFC Qatar Asian Cup at 8:30 p.m. on the 15th (Korea Standard Time) at Jasim bin Hamad Stadium. Thanks to Hwang In-beom’s first goal in the 38th minute of the first half and Lee Kang-in’s multi-goal in the 11th minute of the second half and 23rd minute of the second half, South Korea easily passed the first gateway to the top of Asia by defeating Bahrain, which had only one goal by Ali al-Hashashi in the 5th minute of the second half.
The showdown with Bahrain was harder than expected. It was also the first match of the tournament, but he struggled with a lot of warnings. “All our players and coaches told me that it was going to be a difficult match even before the game started. I think it was the same in reality. None of the teams in the Asian Cup is easy. We do our best to prepare for every match and try our best to bring the best performance and results. There were pros and cons of winning today’s match 3-1, but I will try to prepare better for the next match and bring good results,” Lee Kang-in said in an interview after the match.
Lee will play alongside Kylian Mbappe in his team and Son Heung-min in the national team. On living with world-class star players, Lee said, “I am learning in so many areas. I learn a lot as a person outside, not just in the stadium, in soccer. When I come to the national team, I have a lot to learn besides Heung-min. I try to be a good player. I also have a lot of good players besides Mbappe in the team. I am trying to learn a lot.”
When asked what motivation he has to play for the national team, he said, “First of all, all soccer players and the people of the Republic of Korea are waiting for us. It’s a very important competition for us, and I haven’t won this competition for 60 years, and it’s the motivation of the players’ coaches and I will do my best to win it somehow. Right now, however, one game is more important than a championship. I think we have to prepare for the next game. I have five days left, and I will do my best to prepare for the next game,” in preparing to win the next game.
Regarding the goal scene, he said, “I think I was able to score it because of such a good pass and such good movement. Not only my own goal, but also all the players’ goals and victories, I think I can score because of the players who played and all the players who prepared for the game. If I have a good chance in the next game, I will try to score a goal. As I always said, winning the team is more important than scoring a goal. I will play accordingly.”
On his teamwork with Son, he said he liked it. “We hit it off well today, and I think we hit it off not only today, but also during other call-ups and trainings. However, I will try to match it well with all the players and bring more goals and more wins. We will do our best as a team to bring good results in one direction.”
When asked what kind of instructions Klinsmann gave, he said, “He always motivates me in every training and every game. He always helps me to show more skills. He wants so much from me. That’s why he has no choice but to try to achieve more. Thank you so much for that. You’ll be with me longer, and I’m glad that I can be a better player in that area.”
When Bahrain made a rough play, he said, “I expected it.” Lee Kang-in said, “I didn’t think about anything. It wasn’t easy even before the game, and I expected the opponent to be rough. I thought if we waited for our moment while playing, we would have a chance. I did it because I thought I could win if I took that opportunity.”
Takefusa Kubo of Japan named Lee Kang-in as the most anticipated player for the Korean national team. He may meet Japan as early as this tournament, and even if he does not meet in this tournament, he will represent his respective teams and face off in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 in February.
Lee Kang-in, who heard this story, also replied with a smile, “Kubo picked me, so I have to pick me, too.” “He is such a good player and a player with so many things. He is one of the players who can become the best player in the world in his experience playing together. First of all, thank you for saying that. Japan and my friend will do well on their own. I think a better team with better players will win without getting hurt,” he said, promising a good match.
How is Lee’s physical condition now? “I don’t think it’s time to consider whether I’m in good condition or not. If it’s bad, I just do my best as it is bad, and if it’s good, I just do my best. As winning the team is the most important thing, I think I should focus on the game as much as possible and play in the best condition. I’m okay with the knee that I got hurt earlier,” Lee said.
Lastly, Lee Kang-in told his fans, “The players and coaching staff are much more desperate to win than the fans want to win. I will do my best to show good performance and good results in every game, so if you show a lot of interest and support as you do now, I will do my best to repay you.”