Klinsmann laments injury to key midfielder ahead of Sept. matches

August 28, 2023

South Korea’s head coach Jurgen Klinsmann understands injuries are part of football, but it can still be frustrating for the German tactician when a player as important as Lee Kang-in is sidelined.

Lee, a 22-year-old midfielder for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), was left off Klinsmann’s 25-man roster for South Korea’s matches against Wales and Saudi Arabia next month.

PSG made the decision for Klinsmann last Tuesday, when they announced Lee, one of their new summer signings, would “remain in treatment until at least the end of the international break” in the middle of next month with a left quadriceps injury.

“Injuries are the biggest variable when preparing for international matches. In particular, Lee Kang-in’s injury will complicate things for us,” Klinsmann said in a statement released by the Korea Football Association (KFA). Klinsmann, who is staying in his Los Angeles home, unveiled his roster in a press release instead of holding a press conference — a common practice by his predecessors.

“But I have to accept this reality and use it as an opportunity to make new plans,” Klinsmann added. “I hope Lee Kang-in recovers quickly and settles in with his club. I also hope he will play in the Asian Games in full health.”

Klinsmann’s squad could have been compromised even further, as two key attackers, Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cho Gue-sung of FC Midtjylland, have both suffered injuries of late. Klinsmann still called them up for September, with the two clubs assuring him of the players’ health for the international matches.

In this file photo from June 22, 2023, Jurgen Klinsmann, head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, prepares for a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul. (Yonhap)
In this file photo from June 22, 2023, Jurgen Klinsmann, head coach of the South Korean men’s national football team, prepares for a press conference at the Korea Football Association House in Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korea will play Wales in Cardiff on Sept. 7 and Saudi Arabia in Newcastle, England, on Sept. 12. At the Asian Games, South Korea’s first group stage match is Sept. 19 against Kuwait.

Lee was named to the under-24 Asian Games squad in July. Klinsmann had planned to still call up Lee for his team’s two friendlies before sending Lee to the U-24 team later.

The U-24 national team, coached by Hwang Sun-hong, will run training camp, while Klinsmann’s team is in Europe. Though Lee has yet to play or even train under Hwang in the leadup to the Asian Games, Klinsmann had previously said playing against Wales and Saudi Arabia would better prepare Lee for the Asian Games than just training.

With Lee ruled out, Klinsmann chose two other members of the Asian Games team for the European trip: Seol Young-woo of Ulsan Hyundai FC and Hong Hyun-seok of KAA Gent.

In a compromise, though, Klinsmann will not take four other members of the Asian Games squad who would have merited senior team consideration: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors teammates Paik Seung-ho and Song Min-kyu, VfB Stuttgart midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong, and Dynamo Dresden defender Park Kyu-hyun.

“After several discussions with the KFA regarding the status of some players for the Asian Games, we decided to call up Seol Young-woo and Hong Hyun-seok because we absolutely needed them against Wales,” Klinsmann said. “And barring injuries or performance-related issues with other players, we will allow these two players to join the Asian Games team. I hope coach Hwang Sun-hong and his squad will accomplish their goal at the Asian Games.”

South Korea will try to win their third straight gold medal this fall.

Klinsmann called up three new faces for the upcoming trip. Gimcheon Sangmu FC goalkeeper Kim Joon-hong and Brentford defender Kim Ji-soo, teammates during South Korea’s run to the semifinals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in June, will try to collect their first senior international caps. Gwangju FC midfielder Lee Soon-min has never been on any national team in any age group.

Klinsmann said his goalkeeper coach Andreas Kopke scouted Kim Joon-hong during the U-24 team’s training camp in early August. Klinsmann himself watched Kim Ji-soo play for Brentford’s B-team recently.

“I chose these two players not as immediate reinforcements for the national team but based on their potential as the future of this team,” Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann noted Lee’s consistent excellence for his K League 1 club and added, “The selection of new faces will mark the beginning of changes that can help us win the Asian Cup.”

Klinsmann has repeatedly said his biggest midterm goal for South Korea is to win the Asian Cup in January in Qatar. South Korea last won the continental tournament in 1960.

Klinsmann is winless on the South Korean bench, with two draws and two losses so far.