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Defender Shines on WC Stage After Years of Frustration

Posted June. 24, 2010 13:03,   


When the entire nation was in the grip of soccer fever at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, Lee Jung-soo felt as if the whole thing was another country’s story.

The player had high expectations of joining the national team but failed to make the final roster of then coach Dick Advocaat. Lee reportedly spent day after day drinking alcohol in agony.

Had Lee played in the Germany World Cup, the Taegeuk Warriors might have finally advanced to the second round for the first time on foreign soil. The defender, however, has used this tournament to shine on the world stage.

He scored South Korea’s first goal against Greece June 12 and tied the score in Wednesday’s final Group B game against Nigeria.

○ Position switch

Lee played striker at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and joined the Anyang LG Cheetahs (now FC Seoul) in 2002 as a forward. In his first year as a pro, he had two goals and two assists in 29 games.

A year later, Anyang coach Cho Kwang-rae, who picked Lee No. 1 overall in the league draft, recommended that he switch to defender. Cho said Lee was tall and fast but lacked the sharpness of young dynamo Park Chu-young.

Lee began standing out as a defender in 2004, when he moved to Incheon United under coach Chang Woe-ryong. In 2005, he helped the team finish second in the K-League as Incheon`s main defender.

After he was transferred to the Samsung Suwon Bluewings in 2006, he received the full confidence of coach Cha Bum-kun. Cha praised Lee as an attacking defender with speed and the ability to score.

○ Late bloomer

Though he solidified his position as a key defender in the K-League, Lee struggled to make the national team. He was first named to the squad for the East Asian Football Championship in July 2005 but missed the tournament due to a thigh injury.

He returned in 2006 after recovering but did not make the national team that played in the Germany World Cup that year.

Lee had another opportunity in 2008, when current coach Huh Jung-moo selected him for the squad. On March 26 of that year, Lee at age 28 made his A match debut in a World Cup regional qualifier against North Korea in Shanghai.

○ Defender who scores

Tall at 184 centimeters and fast, the defender has retained the instincts of a striker. He scored his first international goal in an exhibition game versus Australia on Sept. 5 last year and another in a friendly against Finland early this year.

Lee scored five goals in 32 games for Kyoto Sanga of the Japanese pro league last year and two in eight games for the Kashima Antlers this year.

In the South Africa World Cup, he has played central defender and scored two goals by actively joining the offense. In the opener versus Greece June 12, he scored with his right foot after receiving a cross from Ki Sung-yueng.

He scored his second against Nigeria Tuesday also on a set piece with Ki. Lee is the first South Korean defender to score two goals in the World Cup since Hong Myung-bo did so in the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.

○ Future

His stellar World Cup performance is expected to raise his value. Lee plays for the Kashima Antlers, which has won Japan`s pro league title for three straight years.

Late last year, Japanese media reported that a Saudi Arabian team offered him a large sum to join.

Lee will also marry his fiancée late this year.