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Will Resurgent Star Lee DG Rejoin Nat`l Soccer Team?

Posted July. 18, 2009 08:14,   


Scene 1: A baby-faced man expressed extreme despair when the final roster of the national soccer team for the 2002 World Cup was announced in May 2002.

Lee Dong-guk, who was 23 years old at the time, experienced immense shock over his exclusion from the team despite being considered a young sensation expected to spearhead the future of Korean soccer.

Then national coach Guus Hiddink gave an explanation on Lee’s snub, saying, “Lee has a good physique and ability to score goals, but lacks a challenging spirit and concentration.”

Korea’s miraculous advance to the World Cup semifinals was a blessing to all Koreans but was a source of despair for Lee. He was so disappointed, he once said, “I watched none of the Korean team’s matches.”

While other players advanced to overseas leagues and earned exemption from military service thanks to their stellar performance in the World Cup, Lee quietly began his service in 2003.

Scene 2: Lee suffered yet another major setback in April 2006 while playing for the Pohang Steelers. He tore cruciate ligaments in his right knee in a game against Incheon United.

He had shown a stellar performance in the K-League and the national team until April 2006, but his injury ruled him out of the World Cup in Germany the same year.

Lee said, “I matured both physically and mentally in the military,” but suffered yet another big blow in his career.

○ Gunning for South Africa

Lee’s dream to play in a World Cup has proven elusive but could come true next year. Now 30, Lee has regained his prolific scoring touch for Jeonbuk Hyundai.

As recently as early this year, critics doubted Lee’s chances of making the national team but he has proven them wrong. He is tops in the K-League with 12 goals in 13 regular-season games and ranks second in the FA Cup with four goals in three games.

He is close to becoming the first K-League player to lead in scoring in both the regular season and the FA Cup.

Given Lee’s recent scoring surge, debate has flared up again over whether he will be named to the national squad. National team coach Huh Jung-moo took a cautious stance, saying, “I will wait and see.”

“Lee has many merits, but has room for improvement, including the volume of his moves,” Huh said, adding, “I will consider whether to include him on the roaster after keeping a watch on him.”

What do professional team coaches think of Lee’s play? They also took a cautious stance, with one saying, “The selection of the national team roster is the coach’s independent right.”

Yet five of nine pro coaches surveyed agreed that Lee’s skills are enough to earn him a spot on the national team.

Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee said, “Lee is better now than in his heyday.”

Gangwon FC coach Choi Soon-ho said, “If he continues to keep up his current level of play, he is more than qualified to join the roster.”

○ Jury still out on Lee’s selection

Coaches seemed undecided when asked if they would pick Lee if they were national team coach, however. Five said they would wait a bit longer to decide, apparently due to fears over Lee’s teamwork despite his skills.

Coach Han said, “If Lee is included on the national team, which is operated in harmony like a cogwheel led by several players including Park Ji-sung, Korea might have to adjust its teamwork.”

Four of the nine surveyed coaches also singled out “bigger amount of moves” as a key element in considering whether to include Lee on the national team. They said he now moves more than before but that he still greatly benefits from assists.

Two coaches also said Lee must improve his capacity to dribble and dash and two others cited development of physical strength.