Go to contents

Veteran Striker Struggling to Make World Cup Roster

Posted January. 12, 2010 08:37,   


Lee Dong-gook, 31, looked happy Saturday as he entered Rand Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, for a friendly game against Zambia.

The veteran soccer player seemed full of passion as if trying to demonstrate that he is still Korea’s best striker. This prospect was dampened after he missed a powerful shot on goal in the first half.

The Africans dominated the midfield in their 4-2 triumph, causing him to get isolated often on the field and sigh. He looked gloomy when leaving the ground after the first half ended.

The Jeonbuk Hyundai star showed a lackluster performance against Zambia in the first half, and sat out the second in favor of Kim Shin-wook of Ulsan Hyundai.

Making a triumphant comeback to the K-League last year, Lee returned to the national team after an absence of 25 months. He has failed to score, however, in the five A matches he has played since then.

Korean national team coach Huh Jung-moo said, “We need a player who can live up to our expectations. We cannot afford to favor a certain player.”

Lee has had poor luck when it comes to the World Cup. He was snubbed by coach Guus Hiddink in the 2002 World Cup. He would have figured prominently in the 2006 World Cup under Dick Advocaat, but a severe knee injury knocked him out of the tournament.

The South Africa World Cup in June is considered his final shot at soccer’s grand spectacle. As a result, he feels a huge burden, something that he says he can ease by scoring a goal as soon as possible in the tournament.

Lee also needs to earn Huh’s full trust. At a media event Sunday in on Rustenburg, South Africa, Sunday, the coach said, “I’m not satisfied with the play of target-type strikers including Lee Dong-gook, Ha Tae-gyun and Kim Shin-wook. Should they fail to perform satisfactorily, I will not bother to take them to the World Cup.”

The target-type striker refers to a forward with a big physique and physical play with powerful shooting and heading skills. Huh’s comments are seen as criticism of Lee, who has 22 goals in 75 international matches.

Lee said, “I’m not satisfied with my play. I fully understand Mr. Huh’s position,” but added, “I think trust is very important between players and the coach.”

The forward, however, still has a chance to make the team. Huh wants target-type strikers different in playing style from strikers Park Chu-young (AS Monaco), and Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata of Japan).

In its second World Cup group match, Korea faces Argentina, whose players are relatively short. Thus, tall players such as Lee Dong-gook could prove useful in the game.

Lee is also in good physical condition and often hears “good play” from coaching staff more often than any other player.

The bottom line, however, is that he must score goals for Korea. When he does so over the next series of Korea’s friendly tune-ups ahead of the World Cup will determine whether he plays in South Africa for the World Cup 2010.