(Asian Cup) S. Korea’s offensive talent makes difference vs. Bahrain in opening win

SEOUL, In the end, South Korea's talent made the difference. South Korea beat Bahrain 3-1 in their first Group E match of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar on Monday, a match that appeared to be hanging in the balance momentarily in the second half. That's when one of South Korea's biggest stars took over. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) midfielder Lee Kang-in scored the go-ahead goal in the 56th minute with his now-patented, left-footed strike from just outside the box. It came just five minutes after Bahrain drew even on Abdullah Al Hashash's goal. Lee went to his left foot to make it 3-1 a dozen minutes later, faking out a defender to give himself some open space on the right side of the box before slotting the ball home to the bottom left corner. Throughout the match, Lee flashed his considerable offensive skills that made him one of PSG's top summer signings last year. He nearly connected with captain Son Heung-min for a memorable goal in the late minutes, though the Tottenham Hot spur talisman, after receiving a delicious through ball from Lee, sent his right-footed shot wide of the target. Lee has been more of a playmaker than a natural goal scorer, but the 22-year-old has turned into one of South Korea's most dangerous, not to mention unlikely, goal threats. He now has six goals in his past six international appearances -- more than any other South Korean player in that stretch. South Korea will need more of the same from Lee and the rest of their Europe-based attackers, if they are to win their first Asian Cup since 1960. Bahrain, predictably, established a strong defensive stance as the heavy underdog in this match. And South Korea had difficulty getting anything going offensively against such dogged and physical defending. Bodies flew left and right, though it was South Korea that picked up two quick yellow cards while trying to prevent Bahrain from mounting counterattacks. Crvena zvezda midfielder Hwang In-beom put South Korea on the board in the 38th minute, with a teammate from Europe, Mainz 05 midfielder Lee Jae-sung, setting him up with a cross from the left wing. Then Lee Kang-in's free kick in the dying moments of the first half went just over the net. South Korea's reliance on their top dogs is hardly new. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has seen most of his top players performing at a high level in their respective leagues just before the big AFC tournament. Few other teams in this competition can make that claim. With a not-so-insignificant drop-off in the talent level among the reserves, it will be imperative for South Korean stars to stay healthy and sustain their play going forward. In that regard, missing Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who has already set a career-high 10 goals in the Premier League, to a left hip injury could hurt South Korea in the long run. Five different players picking up a yellow card was not ideal for South Korea, either, especially when that bunch includes the team's best defender, Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich, and its captain Son. Next up for South Korea will be Jordan on Saturday. Source: Yonhap News Agency