It’s a return of the will. A strong will to return to top form is what drove Lee Ki-Jae to rise to the occasion.

The South Korean national soccer team, led by Jürgen Klinsmann, will take on Roberto Mancini’s Saudi Arabia in the round of 16 of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Qatar Asian Cup at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, at 1 a.m. local time on Jan. 31.

Two days ahead of the match, the team trained at the Al Egla Training Center at 4 p.m. local time on Aug. 28 to prepare for the match against Saudi Arabia. The team adjusted the time from their usual 10 a.m. training session to begin their afternoon training in time for the 7 p.m. kickoff.

A total of 25 players participated in the day’s training. Two players were excluded from the team training. Kim Seung-kyu, who dropped out due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, and Moon Sun-min, who injured his right hamstring during the team’s tactical training on the 27th, will remain at home to continue his recovery and treatment indoors.

There was also good news. Lee Ki-jae, who had been separated from the team until the day before and was working out privately with a physiotherapist, has returned to team training. According to national team officials, Lee’s determination to return to the team helped him recover quickly.

Lee injured his right hamstring in the first half of South Korea’s second Group E match against Jordan on Sept. 20. After playing the first half and being substituted, Lee focused on his recovery. His absence from the third match against Malaysia on the 25th raised concerns, but he was soon fit enough to return to action.

He’s participated in some team training, but it’s unclear if he’ll be available for the round of 16 right away. However, it is very encouraging to see that the injured players are recovering and returning quickly. It’s a testament to the determination of the players and the hard work of the medical team.

Kim Jin-soo and Hwang Hee-chan, who were injured from the time they arrived in Qatar until the Jordan match ten days later, also returned as second-half substitutes against Malaysia three days ago, giving a green light to the team’s championship challenge. “Both players have improved to the point where they can start,” a team official said.

If Lee Ki-je returns to full fitness, it will also solve Klinsmann’s problem of left fullback options. There are three left fullbacks, Kim Jin-soo, Lee Ki-jae, and Seol Young-woo, who can play both left and right fullback. On the right side, Kim Tae-hwan and Seol Young-woo are available.


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