|Levante's Serbian defender Nemanja Radoja, left, challenges Valencia's South Korean midfielder Lee Kang-in during a Spanish league football match at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia on Sunday. / AFP-Yonhap|
By Jhoo Dong-chan
Last season was disappointing for Valencia CF's midfielder Lee Kang-in who logged less than 700 minutes of game time in total. The Spanish club's first La Liga match against Levante UD, however, proved the team shouldn't bench him anymore.
Valencia CF beat Levante in the season's opening match of Spain's top-tier football league at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Sunday. The 19-year-old prodigy was listed on the team's starting 11 and went on to collect two assists, helping the club achieve its 4-2 victory against the team's local rival on the day.
Valencia got off to a shaky start, conceding a goal to opposition ace Luis Morales in the first minute. In the 12th minute, however, Lee came to the rescue by feeding a corner kick to Gabriel Paulista who headed in the equalizer.
The club allowed another goal to Morales in the 36th minute, but Lee helped level the game with his exquisite pass to Maxi Gomez. The 24-year-old striker netted the ball past opposition goalie Sergio Leon.
Lee was subbed out for Manu Vallejo in the 71st minute. Vallejo scored twice in the second half to conclude the team's 4-2 victory against Levante.
Numbers also prove Lee's exceptional talent, especially in passing. For the 71 minutes, the South Korean international completed 17 passes out of 18 attempts. Of the 17, four were key moves in the team's scoring opportunities.
"Lee was the youngest Valencia player who collected two assists in a La Liga game in the 21st century after the team's legend Juan Mata," football columnist Hwang Duk-yeon said. "He played the team's ace position. Manager Javi Gracia's tactic also worked well with Lee's playing style."
Lee has been the centerpiece of Gracia's football tactics since the club's preseason matches. He also received a great deal of attention after scoring two goals against FC Cartagena earlier this month.
Last year, Lee led the South Korean U-20 international team to the FIFA U-20 World Cup final. He won the Golden Ball in the tournament.
Lee was also named the Asian Football Confederation's Asian Young Footballer of the Year.