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Lee Kang-in selected for Asian Cup's all-tournament team

Feb. 13, 2024 - 13:58 By Yoon Min-sik
South Korea's Lee Kang-in addresses the fans after the Group E match against Jordan at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Jan.20 (Yonhap)

South Korean midfielder Lee Kang-in was tapped by the Asian Football Confederation as one of the top 11 players of the Asian Cup 2023, after the top continental tournament in Qatar concluded Saturday with the home team defending its title.

The 22-year-old scored three goals for the national team in his first Asian Cup outing, tying for the team lead in scoring with the captain Son Heung-min, while also adding an assist. His two goals in the opening match for South Korea against Bahrain in the qualifying round were crucial in the team's 3-1 victory, earning him the honor of player of the match.

Akram Afif of Qatar, the MVP and top scorer for the tournament, was an obvious choice for the top 11 alongside his compatriots Hassan Al-Haydos, Lucas Mendes and Meshaal Barsham – who was voted the best goalkeeper of the event. Afif carried his team to 3-1 victory over Jordan in the finals and became the first player to register a hat trick in this year's tournament.

Other selections were Yazan Al-Naimat and Abdallah Nasib from the runner-up Jordan, Mehdi Ghayedi of Iran, Craig Goodwin of Australia, Aymen Hussein of Iraq and Ali Al-Bulayhi of Saudi Arabia.

This photo provided by the Asian Football Confederation shows its selection for the Team of the Tournament of the Asian Cup 2023. (Asian Football Confederation)

Lee getting the nod for the Team of the Tournament was a consolation prize in an otherwise disappointing performance from the South Korean team. Its 2-0 loss in the semifinals marked yet another lost opportunity to win the Asian Cup since its solitary championship back in 1960 during the Seoul event.

The team's lackluster performance against much-lower ranked teams in FIFA sparked harsh criticism from the fans and calls for resignation of head coach Juergen Klinsmann, with Son remaining vague about his future with the national squad.

In spite of the disappointment in Qatar, South Korean fans voiced their approval toward the youthful Lee, already being touted as the future of the national team. He also was chosen for the best 11 spot in selections by major media outlets such as ESPN, which gave Son an honorable mention.

Lee, currently playing professionally for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain, had shown promise from the very early stages of his career by becoming the youngest South Korean soccer player to debut professionally in Europe at the age of 17. Lee won the Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 2019, presented by the AFC to the best young soccer player in the continent.