Asiad football coach ‘frustrated’ with uncertainty over status of PSG’s Lee

Hwang Sun-hong, head coach of the South Korean men's Asian Games football team, said Thursday he is "frustrated" with the lingering uncertainty over the status of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) midfielder Lee Kang-in.

Hwang named Lee to his under-24 squad for the Hangzhou Asian Games in July. With South Korea's first group stage match only five days away in China, however, Lee has yet to join Hwang's team, nor is it clear exactly when the 22-year-old midfielder will do so.

"I am frustrated. I've been in touch with Kang-in personally, and he'd love to join us as soon as he can. But our talks with PSG over the timing of his release haven't gone well," Hwang told reporters before a training session at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. "The Korea Football Association has been in close contact with PSG. I hope the situation gets resolved quickly so that we can all focus on the team here. I'd love to have him for at least a couple of matches for the group stage."

Lee, one of South Korea's most skilled and creative players, will be an integral piece for the young Taegeuk Warriors as they try to win the country's third consecutive Asiad men's football title.

The opening ceremony of the Asian Games is Sept. 23, but the group stage for the men's football tournament will kick off early next week.

South Korea's first Group E match will be against Kuwait next Tuesday, and the next match is against Thailand next Thursday. They will wrap up the group stage against Bahrain on Sept. 24.

The Asian Games aren't part of the FIFA international calendar, and clubs aren't required to release their players.

"Ideally, it'd be great to have him play a couple of matches in the group stage before getting into the knockout stage," Hwang said. "If not, then we will have to prepare for different contingencies. The earlier this decision is made, the better it is for us to make plans. It's a frustrating situation."

Hwang said PSG are trying to work out a deal whereby they will send Lee early for the Asian Games but hold on to him a little longer before the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup tournament in January in Qatar.

"I think they want things to work in their favor, and we need to negotiate a few things," Hwang added.

Lee's recent stint on the sidelines due to a left quadriceps injury has made his Asiad status even more difficult to predict. Lee has been out of action since late August but returned to training earlier this week. He missed two friendly matches for the senior national team earlier this month, and Hwang had been hoping Lee would recover in time for the Asian Games.

"PSG were supposed to tell us by Wednesday whether Kang-in had fully recovered and when he could join us, but they haven't given us any answer on that front," Hwang said. "He has told me that he doesn't expect to play (for PSG) on Saturday. I think he's mostly healthy now, and it seems to be a matter of getting back into match shape."

Hwang said he has not yet thought about the possibility of not having Lee at all for the Asian Games.

"If we only get to have him for the final, then it'd be a different story. But we are not at that point yet," Hwang added.

With or without Lee, Hwang said the goal for the team doesn't change.

"We know what our fans expect from us, and we have a clearly defined goal," Hwang said. "If we work hard and do our best, we can absolutely accomplish our goal."

The Asian Games men's football competition is typically open to players under 23, with each team allowed to select up to three overage players. For this year's competition, which was postponed by 12 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the age limit was raised to 24.

There will be six groups of four in action. The top two teams from each group, along with the four best third-place teams, will advance to the knockout stage.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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