The unconventional striker emerging as a key figure to South Korea's AFC U-23 Asian Cup charge

Having scored all three of his team's goals so far at the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, Lee Young-Jun has played a pivotal role in South Korea advancing to the quarterfinals with a game to spare in Group B. Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

The first sign that Lee Young-Jun is perhaps not your typical striker could be in the jersey number he is wearing while representing South Korea at the ongoing AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

While 9 is the numeral most often associated with spearheads of a football team, while a 10, 7 or 11 are also commonplace, a number 6 jersey leading the line is a rare -- and slightly peculiar -- sight.

Still, jersey numbers are, at the end of the day, just numbers.

There is then the fact that Lee, standing at 1.93 metres and with a slightly gangly gait hardly looks and moves like the strikers that football has grown accustomed to -- at least not by modern-day standards.

With the number 6 on his back and his physically imposing figure, Lee could easily be mistaken for a towering centre-back or tough-tackling defensive midfielder.

But after his first two displays at the U-23 Asian Cup, there can be no mistaking.

Lee is definitely a striker, and a pretty promising one at that.

With one game still to play in their group stage campaign, South Korea are already through to the quarterfinals after 1-0 and 2-0 victories over United Arab Emirates and China respectively.

All three of their goals at the tournament thus far have come courtesy of Lee.

Having initially been kept in reserve in South Korea's opener against UAE, Lee made a telling impact after being introduced as he popped up with a 94th-minute winner after climbing highest to power home a header from a corner.

Rewarded with a starting berth against China three days later, he would then show off his predatory instincts once more, opening the scoring with a powerful finish from an acute angle before sealing the win with another clinical effort into the bottom corner -- this time on his opposite foot.

Despite his stature, Lee is deceptively mobile and is quite happy to drop deep or into wider space to play his part in the build-up, which is also how he found space from the right for his first goal against the Chinese.

In the immediate term, the 20-year-old will be looking to not only lead South Korea to a second U-23 Asian Cup triumph after their previous success in 2020 but also help them book a spot at the men's football tournament of the Olympic Games later this year -- with the top three teams guaranteed a ticket to Paris.

Yet, if he continues to perform as he has at the tournament so far and develops as expected, there is no reason why he cannot dream of greater success ahead.

Currently playing in K League 1 with the army-affiliated Gimcheon Sangmu, the fact that Lee will soon complete his mandatory national service commitments at a relatively young age means that the path for him to fully focus on his career.

A recent example of how this could work in his favour could come in the form of current senior star Cho Gue-Sung, who also made the most of his increased opportunities playing for Sangmu after struggling to make an impact due to the increased competition for places at South Korean heavyweights Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

While at Sangmu, Cho would go on to be the K League 1's top scorer in 2022, which earned him a place with the national team for the FIFA World Cup that took place at the end of that year.

Cho caught the eye after netting twice against Ghana and eventually earned a move to Europe with Denmark's Midtjylland, where he has been a huge hit since.

The fact that Lee offers the presence of an old-school target man also bodes well for his senior international prospects given it is something that has been associated with South Korea's footballing identity.

Cho currently offers that but, before him, Hwang Ui-Jo performed a similar role that allowed the likes of Son Heung-Min, Hwang Hee-Chan and Lee Jae-Sung to do their best work just behind in the attacking third.

Going slightly further back, Kim Shin-Wook -- who was even taller than Lee at 1.96 metres -- had a hugely successful stint leading the South Korea attack, winning 56 caps and featuring at both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

As unconventional as he may appear at first glance, Lee's style of play is as traditional as they come when it comes to being the main man in attack for South Korea.

And perhaps most impressively, he looks to be an even more natural finisher than Cho, Hwang Ui-Jo or Kim.

Numbers can sometimes be deceiving, especially when it is a 6 on the back of a team's main striker.

Yet, three goals in two matches -- all three of your team's tally at that -- tell an accurate picture of how important Lee is shaping up in South Korea's quest for U-23 Asian Cup glory, along with a place at the Paris Olympics.