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Club Team Benches Team Korea’s Goalie

Posted November. 27, 2006 07:05,   


Lee Woon-jae, the face of Team Korea in goal, has been on the bench instead of in the goalmouth recently, including in the 2006 championship finals of the Samsung Hauzen K-League.

Lee (33, Suwon Samsung), who played a major role in Korea’s triumphant quest to the semifinals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup as well as in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, quietly watched the game on the bench with arms folded. It was a 1-2 loss for his team Suwon. During the award ceremony, he was hesitantly standing on the left end of the tripod, and as soon as the ceremony was over, he disappeared to the locker room faster than anyone else.

After he was asked, “How did you feel as you watched your team lose the title?” he murmured as if he was talking to himself, “We could have done better….”

Lee hasn’t showed up on a K-League pitch ever since July 15, just after the World Cup, in the match against Gyeongnam FC when he was substituted for during halftime. Park Ho-jin, his junior, has been keeping the goalmouth since then. Lee has been sitting on the bench for 20 games, including the two in the championship final.

He injured his knee back on July 26 and has been off for three weeks, but nothing changed even after he recovered. The only chance for him to be on the pitch was in the K-League All-star Game (August 20), and in a national match against Taiwan (September 6), which was a qualifying match for the Asian Cup.

Some suspect that his relationship with the team’s manager Cha Bum-kun is in trouble. But both Lee and Cha strongly deny it. Cha has been saying, “It is true that Lee is in a good condition to play. But Park is performing even better.” In fact, since Park took the position, the team has been on a stable pace and finally won second term of the season.

Nevertheless, some football experts are still suspicious. They point out that since Lee is a star even recognized in other countries, he should have been able to show up in at least a few home games. They claim that there could be some other reason for his absence in all of Suwon’s matches.

One of those experts argued, “Cha could have deliberately excluded Lee. If this is the case, we can say that a qualified goalie is being sacrificed by the manager’s prejudice.” On the contrary, Cha said, “I told Lee to play in the season’s last match against Jeonbuk Hyundai which was on November 5, but Lee said he wanted to ‘finish the season behind the scenes.’”

Lee is still wordless. One of his acquaintances said, “Something serious might happen after the season.” Suwon’s season ends on December 3, when they have their final match with Jeonnam Dragons for the FA Cup. After all, the question, “Why did Lee, despite being in his best condition, stay on bench?” is yet to be answered.