Lee upstages misfiring Son as South Korea win Asian Cup opener

South Korea made a solid start in their bid to lift the title for the first time since 1960


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South Korea's Lee Kang-in celebrates after scoring their third goal. — Reuters
South Korea's Lee Kang-in celebrates after scoring their third goal. — Reuters

Published: Mon 15 Jan 2024, 9:50 PM

Lee Kang-in said he was "learning a lot" after upstaging Son Heung-min with two goals for South Korea in a 3-1 win over Bahrain on Monday to launch their Asian Cup campaign.

The Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder hit a second-half brace in Doha as South Korea made a solid start in their bid to lift the title for the first time since 1960.

Tottenham Hotspur talisman Son was guilty of two glaring misses and suffered the indignity of a late yellow card for diving in the Bahrain box.

Instead it was Lee who took centre stage, digging Jurgen Klinsmann's side out of trouble after Bahrain cancelled out Hwang In-beom's opener early in the second half.

Lee has impressed since joining PSG from Mallorca last summer and said it was "a privilege" to play with his star team-mates for club and country.

"I'm learning a lot, but it's not just about football -- I'm learning a lot off the field as well," said the 22-year-old.

"I try to learn as much as possible and develop into a better person and a better football player."

Lee was a peripheral figure under previous South Korea coach Paulo Bento but Klinsmann has made him central to his plans since taking over last year.

The German, a World Cup winner as a player, said Lee had provided a touch of class in an otherwise "scrappy" game that saw five South Korean players booked.

"He scored two goals in the opening game and he deserves to be man of the match, he had a very good performance," said Klinsmann.

"It was a tricky game. That had a lot to do with the referee giving too many yellow cards early."

Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae and Son were among those booked, with the Spurs forward enduring a frustrating time in front of goal.

He missed two gilt-edged chances in the second half and said the team "had to do better".

"I think the most important thing is that we won the game and we move on again because the next game is coming really quick," he said.

Klinsmann left Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan out of his match-day squad.

Hwang, who has scored 10 goals in the Premier League so far this season, has been struggling with a hip injury.

The Koreans laboured early in the match but Hwang In-beom broke the deadlock with just over five minutes of the first half remaining.

Bahrain came out for the second half in search of an equaliser and they got one in the 51st minute.

South Korea goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu parried the ball and Abdullah Al-Hashash was there to slam home the rebound.

Lee restored South Korea's lead five minutes later, collecting a pass outside the box and lashing home with his left foot.

He bagged his second in the 69th minute, dancing through the Bahrain defence before coolly slotting the ball home.

"We are very pleased to start with three points in the tournament," said Klinsmann.

"This is the really important thing, to get three points in game one, and then you look forward to the next game."

That will be on Saturday against Jordan.

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