Natl. football coach rules high-scoring veteran out of World Cup

By Yonhap
  • Published : May 2, 2018 - 15:52
  • Updated : May 2, 2018 - 15:52

South Korea men's football head coach Shin Tae-yong on Wednesday ruled veteran striker Lee Dong-gook out of this year's FIFA World Cup.

At a press conference at the Korea Football Association headquarters, Shin said Lee, 39, had already offered to step aside for younger players at the upcoming tournament in Russia.

"He's still playing at a high level despite his age," Shin said of the all-time leading scorer in domestic K League history with 207 goals. "But Lee has already told me that he should take himself out of the running (for a World Cup spot) to allow young players to develop."

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors forward Lee Dong-gook celebrates his goal against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in a K League 1 match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on April 29, 2018. (Yonhap)

Shin is scheduled to announce his World Cup roster on May 14.

Lee, who turned 39 last Sunday, hasn't slowed down in 2018, with five goals in nine matches for the first-place Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Although Lee has long been a prolific scorer in the domestic league, Shin said scoring against K League defenders will be completely different from trying to do the same against World Cup opponents. South Korea will face Germany, the world No. 1 and defending champions, plus 15th-ranked Mexico and No. 23 Sweden in Group F.

"If Lee plays at the World Cup and doesn't convert his scoring chances, he will face a huge backlash," the coach said. "It will be a sensitive situation, and honestly, I don't think he will be on the team."

The star-crossed veteran will likely retire having made just two World Cup appearances in a career full of "what-ifs." After representing the country at the 1998 tournament, Lee was controversially left off the 2002 World Cup team, coached by Guus Hiddink, because he didn't have quite the speed or agility that the Dutch boss sought in his attackers.

Lee would have played at the 2006 World Cup if not for a last-minute knee injury suffered in a K League contest.

He returned to the big show in 2010, but took the brunt of criticism for South Korea's loss to Uruguay in the round of 16, when he missed some quality scoring chances.

Lee played in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup but didn't make the final team.

Pictured is South Korean men`s national football head coach Shin Tae-yong at a press conference at the Korea Football Association headquarters in Seoul on May 2, 2018. (Yonhap)

One other veteran, 29-year-old midfielder Lee Chung-yong, is on the bubble, Shin said. The Crystal Palace player has been in the doghouse for a few seasons, but Shin could use some leadership from the two-time World Cup star.

The national team will report to the National Football Center in Paju, just north of Seoul, on May 21. They will host Honduras on May 27 and Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 1 for the final two tuneup matches at home, before flying to Salzburg, Austria, to set up pre-World Cup camp.

South Korea's first match is against Sweden on June 18. (Yonhap)