90 minutes of Lee Kang-in might have made the difference in South Korea's FIFA World Cup loss to Ghana

Lee Kang-in produced a neat cameo appearance at the FIFA World Cup on Monday but was unable to prevent South Korea from falling to a 3-2 loss to Ghana in Group H. AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- With their FIFA World Cup hopes hanging by a thread as they trailed Ghana 2-0 on Monday, South Korea coach Paulo Bento turned to Lee Kang-in for inspiration for the second time in as many games.

Last time out, it did not quite come off as the South Koreans were held to a 0-0 draw against Uruguay in their Group H opener on Thursday despite the talented playmaker showing glimpses of ability in a couple of moments.

Against the Ghanaians, it almost did.

Within a minute of coming on in the 57th minute, Lee swung a superb cross from the left onto the head of Cho Gue-sung, who made no mistake in glancing the ball home to reduce the deficit.

Three minutes after, Lee was again involved as Kim Jin-su was released down the same wing and it was the left-back's turn to hang up a ball that a determined Cho was again able to convert to remarkably level the scores.

But South Korea had just left themselves with too much to do in the second half.

For all the spirit they were showing in mounting a fightback, Ghana only needed one half-chance to reclaim the lead -- when a low cross into the box was missed by Jordan Ayew but fell kindly to Mohammed Kudus, who clinically dispatched into the bottom corner for his second of the evening.

Ultimately, Ghana would withstand some intense pressure in the closing stages to claim a 3-2 win that ignites their hopes of reaching the Round of 16 while dealing a hammer blow to that of the South Koreans, who now have just a solitary point to their names ahead of a daunting Group H finale against Portugal.

Even as the game wore on, and South Korea were desperately searching for a third goal, it was remarkable that the man that took on the responsibility was the 21-year-old Lee.

Each time the Taegeuk Warriors regained possession, he was the first player that the others looked for to initiate an attack.

Every ball he sent in the box caused panic among the Ghanaian defence, and his sheer presence on the field -- and the problems he was causing -- suddenly created more space for star man Son Heung-min following a first half where he was constantly double-teamed.

In the 90th minute, when he was jogging down the touchline to make his way over to take a corner, and promptly rallied the South Korean fans to make even more noise than they already were, an almighty roar was produced just at his behest.

So just why has Lee not seen as much action as many feel he should for his national team?

There could be several reasons for this.

Given his relatively young age, there is always the potential he is not fully ready for such a high-stakes occasion on the biggest of stages. Keeping him in reserve could be for his protection.

Also, his maverick qualities do make him a real game-changing weapon as he showed in his cameo against Ghana, which might not always be required from the start given Bento's risk-averse ways.

There is also the possibility that Lee has not quite earned Bento's trust, going back to the international break in September when he did not even play a single minute over two friendlies against Costa Rica and Cameroon.

Speaking in place of Bento after the game, following the tactician's red card after the final whistle for dissent, South Korea assistant coach Sergio Costa said: "We are talking about a player (Lee) with very high quality, but we have to set a team, and we have more than just the individual skills of players.

"Nevertheless, Kang-in is a player who brought an additional aspect of our game. I believe we were already (in the ascendancy) at that moment in the game, when he came on and added his individual skill-set.

Lee has certainly brought his skills and shown what he can do under the bright lights of a World Cup. The South Korea faithful will be clamouring for more of him in the coming days, make no mistake about that.

In a must-win tie against Portugal on Friday, Lee could prove to be the difference. Whether or not he gets 90 minutes to do that is the big question for South Korea now.