Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) midfielder Lee Kang-in will join the South Korean men's Asian Games football team in the middle of the group stage in China, the sport's national governing body announced Friday.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) said PSG agreed to release Lee for South Korea after their UEFA Champions League group stage match Tuesday. Lee is then scheduled to leave France on Wednesday for Hangzhou, China, to join South Korea's under-24 squad at the Asian Games.
Among the most creative and highly skilled players in his age group, Lee, 22, will be a critical piece of the puzzle as South Korea chase their third straight Asiad gold medal in men's football.
The KFA said the agreement with the French club was reached late Thursday night.
Coached by Hwang Sun-hong, South Korea will open Group E action against Kuwait on Tuesday, and then play Thailand on Thursday and Bahrain on Sept. 24.
All three South Korean matches will kick off at 7:30 p.m. (local time) at Jinhua Sports Centre Stadium in Jinhua, south of Hangzhou.
The Champions League match in Paris, against Borussia Dortmund, kicks off at 3 a.m. Wednesday (Chinese time). If Lee leaves France the following day as scheduled, he will likely arrive in China by Thursday.
Lee will miss the Kuwait match and is unlikely to be available against Thailand.
The Asian Games men's football tournament isn't part of the FIFA international window, and clubs aren't required to release their players.
According to the KFA, PSG had initially offered on Wednesday to release Lee for the Asian Games if South Korea would agree to let the French club hold on to the player a little longer before the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup tournament in January in Qatar.
By Thursday, though, PSG decided to let Lee play at the Asian Games without any preconditions.
At the Asian Games, there will be six groups of four. The top two countries from each group, along with the four best third-place teams, will advance to the knockout stage.
In a media scrum Thursday, coach Hwang expressed his frustration with the uncertainty over the timing of Lee's release. He had expected to get the final word from PSG by Thursday but acknowledged that talks between the KFA and PSG had hit a snag over the French club's push for preconditions.
Given Lee's importance to South Korea, it is far from ideal for Hwang to be without Lee for possibly two of the three group stage matches. Hwang said Thursday he would love to have Lee for "for at least a couple of matches" during the group stage.
Hwang announced his Asian Games squad in July but Lee has never even trained with the rest of the team, let alone play a match.
Lee is at least familiar with some Asiad-bound players who were his teammates at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where South Korea finished runners-up to Ukraine and Lee won the Golden Ball as the tournament MVP. The group includes forward Cho Young-wook and midfielder Um Won-sang.
Lee has been sidelined since late August with a left quadriceps injury but resumed training this week. Hwang said Lee had told him he doesn't expect to play in PSG's league match this weekend.
When discussing Lee's future with both the U-24 Asian Games team and the senior national team in August, Jurgen Klinsmann, the latter squad's head coach, had revealed that Lee had a clause in his contract with PSG that would allow him to play at the Asian Games. Klinsmann also said Lee was "smart enough to put it in his contract."
Source: Yonhap News Agency