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Former Soccer Rivals Find Harmony on Pitch

Posted June. 04, 2009 08:20,   


National soccer team members Park Chu-young (AS Monaco of France) and Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata of Japan) are both age 24.

Both earned fame for their soccer skills from an early age, but Park has received most of the spotlight.

In high school, Lee led Bupyeong High School to a championship as the key striker. Park was a national star at Cheongju High School. While Lee received accolades in high school, Park had experts predicting superstardom after graduation.

Their fortunes further widened on the professional scene. Park scored 18 goals for FC Seoul in his rookie year of 2005-06, and lifted the K-League Cup. In contrast, Lee played just five games for Incheon United and was eventually demoted to the minors.

The rivalry between the two players has been reignited in the wake of Lee’s reemergence as a star. After winning the MVP award in the minors, Lee scored 10 goals in the K-League to lead Korean players in 2007. He was then traded to Daegu FC.

Injuries and poor performance began to plague Park, and he even struggled to earn a starting position.

Park and Lee have had ups and downs in their soccer careers. After they moved to overseas leagues early this year, however, they have reinforced their prowess as scorers.

Korea national team coach Huh Jung-moo started them as the two top strikers in Tuesday’s friendly game against Oman. The two players failed to score in the 0-0 draw, but impressed with their harmonious play in the first half.

The two had previously played together at the U20 World Cup in 2005 and last year’s Beijing Olympics. Lee, however, sat out the three games of the 2005 tournament. Park also suffered a slump last year due to the effects of his injury and mental burden.

Commentators say the performance of the two strikers will determine Korea’s performance not only in the remaining World Cup qualifiers, but also in the grand tournament next year.

Coach Huh said, “If Park, who shoots faster and has a broader perspective in matches, and Lee, who is agile and can score, can achieve synergy with each other, they will become the best combination out there.”

Park Sung-hwa, the former head coach of the Korean Olympic team who supervised the two players on the youth and national teams at the Beijing Olympics, said, “If they are in good condition, Park and Lee can become Korea’s optimal combination for offense, and their team will be as strong as any other team since they’re both good at strategy and personal tactics.”