Rabu, 28 September 2011

Lion King Still Reigns In Korea

It is true to say that in football, the strikers are the ones who get the goals and get the headlines. Goalkeepers can play fantastically well for a full 89 minutes out of a fantastic match but one mistake and all know what the internet and newspapers will focus on.

Lee Dong-guk is one of the biggest stars in the league. It seems that he has been around for ever but he is still scoring goals and lots of them.

As well as 14 in the regular season so far, the Lion King, so named after his hairstyle at the 1998 World Cup when he burst onto the scene, has been on fire in the Asian Champions League. With the continental competition at the last four stage, Lee is now the leading goalscorer in the tournament with eight goals so far to his name.

Incredibly, six of those goals came in two games against Japanese team Cerezo Osaka. Both teams met in the group stage with both games ending 1-0 to the home side. The quarter-final was a completely different story with goals galore. The first leg in Japan ended 4-3 to Cerezo with Lee scoring twice.

The second leg was expected to be similarly close if not with as many goals. Last Tuesday evening at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, the opposite proved to be the case as there were goals galore as Jeonbuk won 6-1 with Lee getting four.

“It is the first time for me to score four goals in an official match,” said Lee. “We really want to win the Asian title but we also have to focus on the K-League.” it was one of the best nights of the player’s career.

It has been a long career and in European eyes, he will always be remembered for a season and a half in the English Premier League with Middlesbrough FC. It wasn’t a happy time for the player. He arrived at the club in January 2007 and within minutes of appearing in the red shirt for the first time, he had a great opportunity to score only to fire a shot against the post. A few centimetres to the left and perhaps things would have turned out differently.

As it was, while he managed to score in cup competitions, Lee never did it where it really matter – in the most popular league in the world. When his name is mentioned these days by the international media, words such as ‘Middlesbrough flop’ or ‘Premier League failure’ are often not far away. He returned to Korea in 2008 and after a brief and unsuccessful spell at Seongnam, he has settle well in Jeonju.

Not as fast, mobile or strong as he used to be due to injuries, especially a serious knee injury that ruled him out of the 2006 World Cup when he was the national team’s star striker and at the peak of his powers, Lee is still able to find the net when it matters. Eight goals so far in the Asian Champions League, he is on course to win the competition’s golden boot. His goals have helped Jeonbuk to the top of the K-League table.

Inevitably a return to the national team is now being discussed. Lee made the 2010 World Cup squad but never made the pitch. New coach Cho Kwang-rae tends to like younger players but has not ruled a Lee return out.

He hasn’t been summoned in the roster for the 2014 World Cup qualifier against UAE next Tuesday in Seoul and it is unlikely that he will be but if he continues to score the goals that give Jeonbuk a second K-League title and a second Asian Champions League win, then the Lion King’s career could have one final twist in the tail.


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