The Korea Herald


S. Korea defeat Bahrain to open group stage behind Lee Kang-in's brace

By Yonhap

Published : Jan. 15, 2024 - 22:56

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Midfielder Lee Kang-in scores a goal for South Korea against Bahrain in the first match of the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in Qatar on Monday. (Yonhap) Midfielder Lee Kang-in scores a goal for South Korea against Bahrain in the first match of the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in Qatar on Monday. (Yonhap)

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in scored a brace as South Korea defeated Bahrain 3-1 to open their title bid at the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in Qatar on Monday.

Lee broke the 1-1 deadlock in the 56th minute at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha and then netted an insurance marker a dozen minutes later for his sixth goal in the past six international matches.

Midfielder Hwang In-beom scored the first goal for 23rd-ranked South Korea in the 38th minute, before Abdullah Al Hashash answered for 86th-ranked Bahrain six minutes after the restart.

"No one on our team, be it players or coaches, thought this was going to be an easy match," Lee said afterward. "We had some good moments and not so good moments in this one. We will try to play better in the next match."

Coached by Jurgen Klinsmann, South Korea will next face 87th-ranked Jordan on Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. The kickoff is 2:30 p.m.

South Korea will try to win their first Asian Cup since 1960.

Lee said giving up the equalizer early in the second half didn't change South Korea's approach whatsoever.

"Whether we concede a goal or score a goal, we always try to keep playing our game," Lee said. "After giving up that goal, we just wanted to get one right back. I am just happy to have helped the team."

South Korea sent out a star-studded starting XI, featuring Lee, Tottenham Hotspur captain Son Heung-min and Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae. Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers missed the match with a left hip injury.

Despite boasting superior offensive firepower, South Korea were unable to establish control early on.

Bahrain played some tight and physical defense, thwarting a series of South Korean forays into the attacking third. Bahrain had the match's first shot attempt, with Mohamed Marhoon sending a header over the net about six minutes in.

For South Korea, defensive midfielder Park Yong-woo and center back Kim Min-jae each received a yellow card before the match was 15 minutes old. Another defender, Lee Ki-je, also picked up a yellow card in the 28th minute.

At the half-hour mark, South Korean forward Cho Gue-sung was all alone in front of the goal but only managed a desperate shot that went well over the goal after Lee Jae-sung's feed went a little behind him.

Bahrain nearly got on the board in the 32nd minute, when forward Ali Madan got in behind the flat-footed Korean defenders for a one-on-one opportunity against Kim Seung-gyu in goal. Madan, though, sent his left-footed shot high and wide to the left.

South Korea finally grabbed the lead on 38 minutes thanks to a fortuitous bounce. South Korea took a free kick from the center before Bahrain players were ready, and Lee Jae-sung charged down the left wing. His cross ricocheted off the leg of a defender and rolled to wide-open Hwang In-beom, who finished with his left foot to put South Korea ahead.

Lee Kang-in tried to double South Korea's lead in the 43rd minute but his free kick from outside the middle of the box landed on the top of the net.

Bahrain came out of the break looking far more determined, and their early pressure paid off in Abdullah Al Hashash's equalizer in the 51st minute.

Marhoon's initial shot from the center of the box went off a South Korean defender and Al Hashash pounced on the rebound to level the score at 1-1.

South Korea had not conceded a goal in their past seven matches before Monday.

But the Taegeuk Warriors reclaimed their lead five minutes later, as Lee Kang-in unleashed a left-footed rocket from outside the box. The shot went in off the left post, just out of goalkeeper Ebrahim Lutfallah's reach.

Lee then gave South Korea more breathing room in the 68th minute. Son Heung-min passed for Hwang In-beom outside the center of the box, and Hwang then flicked the ball to his right to incoming Lee, who undressed Waleed Al Hayam before firing a left-footed shot into the bottom left corner.

Things opened up at both ends, with Bahrain pushing hard to get within one. Sayed Baqer nearly headed in a free kick in the 80th minute but Kim Seung-gyu was equal to the task to keep it a two-goal affair.

Lee Kang-in and Son Heung-min nearly connected for a highlight-reel goal in the 87th minute. Lee's picture-perfect through ball sent Son in alone on goal on the left side, but the captain's right-footed attempt rolled just wide of the far post.

South Korea dominated possession with nearly 71 percent, and had 14 shot attempts to Bahrain's nine. South Korea had a 5-2 advantage in shots on target.

Son picked up a yellow card during injury time for diving in the Bahrain box in an ill-advised attempt to draw a penalty. He was one of five South Korean players to be cautioned Monday. Referee Ma Ning gave Bahrain two yellow cards. (Yonhap)