Lee Kang-in named to Korean squad for World Cup qualifiers following Asian Cup row

Paris Saint Germain's Lee Kang-in is in action during the French Ligue 1 soccer match between PSG and Reims in Paris, France, March 10.  EPA-Yonhap

Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) midfielder Lee Kang-in was named to the Korean men’s national football team for upcoming World Cup qualifying matches Monday, earning the callup in light of a scuffle with captain Son Heung-min at a recent tournament. Hwang Sun-hong, caretaker boss for the men’s national team, announced his 23-man squad Monday for Korea’s upcoming World Cup qualifying contests. The Taegeuk Warriors will host Thailand at 8 p.m. on March 21 at Seoul World Cup Stadium in their Group C action of the second round in the Asian qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The two countries will meet again in Bangkok on March 26 for a 9:30 p.m. kickoff in Korean time. These will be Korea’s first matches since losing to Jordan 2-0 in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar last month. Lee, 23, was mired in controversy in the aftermath of that loss. It was belatedly revealed that Lee had gotten into a tussle with Son over a game of table tennis on the eve of Korea’s semifinal loss to Jordan. Lee took the brunt of criticism for defying orders from the highly respected captain, and Jurgen Klinsmann, who was fired as head coach following the Asian Cup, blamed Korea’s elimination on dysfunction within the team .Lee has since apologized to Son and the rest of his Asian Cup teammates. In announcing the team, Hwang said he had been in touch with both Lee and Son before finalizing Lee’s inclusion. “Lee Kang-in wanted an opportunity to apologize to fans and his teammates from the bottom of his heart, and Son Heung-min said we should all embrace Kang-in and move forward,” Hwang said. “I don’t think this is a problem only between the two of them. Everyone who was there, from players to coaches to members of the support staff, has to take responsibility. In the next two matches against Thailand, we should all be prepared to atone for our mistakes in front of our fans.”

Hwang coached Lee on the under-24 national team that won the gold medal at last year’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Hwang is currently head coach of the Korean U-23 national team trying to qualify for the Paris Olympics and will hold the fort for the senior squad until the Korea Football Association (KFA) names a full-time boss. Asked if Lee’s presence on the team would cause a distraction for the rest of the national team, Hwang said he didn’t want to kick the can down the road. “I understand that fans may still be angry with him, but I’ve made this decision as head coach of this team,” Hwang said. “If we hadn’t picked Kang-in this time, maybe we would have averted a crisis for the time being. But I don’t think calling him up for the next window would have solved all the problems. Based on my experience as a national team player, I think that issues like this can end up making the team even tighter, the faster you address them. “This iteration of the team includes many of the usual suspects, including Son, who has scored in each of the past two matches for Tottenham Hotspur, and Kim Min-jae, center back for Bayern Munich .Ulsan HD FC forward Joo Min-kyu earned his first selection at age 33. Joo has won two of the past two scoring titles in Korea’s K League 1, and no one has netted more goals than Joo’s 56 from 2021 to 2023.According to the KFA, Joo is the oldest Korean man to earn a first international callup at age 33 and 333 days. If Joo plays on March 21, he will also become th oldest Korean male player to collect his first cap at 33 and 343 days .Korea beat Singapore 5-0 and then China 3-0 to begin the second round in November. There are nine groups of four countries in this stage. The top two teams from each group will advance to the third round. Ranked 22nd in the world, Korea have 30 wins, seven draws and eight losses against 101st-ranked 메이저 Thailand

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