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Lee Kang-in apologizes to Son for Asian Cup scuffle

Men's national soccer team captain asks the public for Lee's forgiveness

Feb. 21, 2024 - 11:42 By Yoon Min-sik
This photo posted on official Instagram page of Son Heung-min shows Son (left) and Lee Kang-in posing for a photo. (Son Heung-min's Instagram page)

Soccer star Lee Kang-in said Wednesday that he recently visited national team captain Son Heung-min in London to apologize for his actions in a scuffle during the Asian Cup 2023 earlier this month.

"I thought it was important to visit (Son) Heung-min and apologize in person, and through a long conversation with him, I came to understand the weight he shoulders as the captain and look back upon myself," he wrote in the official apology posted on in Instagram page, saying that he paid a visit to Son to London, where the 31-year-old star plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.

"I've disappointed Heung-min and the entire team, along with the soccer fans through my rash behavior and not thinking things through during the Asian Cup."

He expressed regret over his actions prior to South Korea's semifinals match in the Asia Football Confederation's top tournament, calling his actions "unacceptable." The 23-year-old said he should have realized how important the tournament was for Son, and should have listened to the advice Son gave him "as a captain, as a hyeong (big brother), and a teammate."

Lee and Son were involved in a scuffle of unspecified nature on the day before the crucial match, when Son took issue with Lee and other younger team members' decision to play table tennis after dinner.

Lee's actions were regarded as mutinous among many South Koreans, particularly with media reports that Lee took a swing at the team captain. He, however, has denied reports that he punched Son.

The public's negative reaction toward Lee led some of his advertisers to consider pulling their endorsement, with consumers flooding the companies' social media pages with threats to boycott if they do not.

After Lee's visit, Son posted on his Instagram page on Wednesday that Lee offered "sincere apology to me and every member of the national team." He asked the public to forgive Lee for his actions.

"All members of the national team will look out for (Lee) Kang-in, so that he would not do such thing again. Kang-in has been having such a difficult time since the incident, and I ask that you (the public) be generous and forgive him. I plead with you as the captain of the national team," Son wrote.

Son acknowledged that his own actions in the scuffle was "not ideal" and were to be criticized, and vowed to be wiser when leading the team in the future. "I believe it is the role of a team captain to do what's necessary for the team, even when it is unpleasant. Next time I'm in such a situation, I will act for the team."

South Korean national team has had one of its more disappointing outings during the AFC's premier event, struggling against much lower-ranked teams in FIFA and coming up short in its quest to claim the first Asian Cup title since 1960. In light of the team's lackluster performance, the Korea Football Association sacked head coach Juergen Klinsmann in a decision last week.