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Lee Dong-gook eyes spot in South Africa

Korea striker Lee Dong-gook is determined to play at this summer’s World Cup, despite a hamstring injury that he suffered during a match against Ecuador two weeks ago.

The 31-year-old forward is three weeks into rehab, but he is reportedly making a quick recovery. Lee said he would be back in shape in time for his second World Cup.

The striker, however, has to wait until manager Huh Jung-moo makes the final decision during an announcement of the final 23-man squad for the 2010 World Cup on Tuesday to make FIFA’s deadline. 

Lee Dong-gook takes part in a practice session in Austria. Yonhap News
Lee Dong-gook takes part in a practice session in Austria. Yonhap News
The hard-nosed 55-year-old manager told local media that “Lee is important to the team.” But Huh noted that he would choose to go to South Africa with players in top condition and injury-free.

Lee is currently staying in Neustift, Austria, where Huh and his 26-man preliminary squad are training. The Jeonbuk Hyundai’s forward has yet to join in training, and time is quickly running out for him to secure his spot in the final 23-man squad.

Lee strained a thigh muscle during the friendly against Ecuador on May 16. He limped off the Seoul World Cup stadium pitch in the second half, leaving his fans with their heads in their hands.

In 2006, Lee suffered a knee injury in the warm up match two months prior to the Germany World Cup, and it ruled him out of a berth on Dick Advocaat’s squad.

In the 1998 World Cup, he debuted at age 19 on the world’s biggest stage as one of the country’s most promising players.

Although he played only a couple of minutes in Korea’s final group game against the Netherlands, he stunned the audience with his long-range effort that crashed off the post.

Debuting in 1998 for the Pohang Steelers, Lee, nicknamed “Lion King,” soon became K-league’s franchise star with his powerful shots and attractive appearance, boosting the league’s popularity.

He moved to Werder Bremen in 2000. However, he was unable to find regular playing time on the Bundesliga side and returned home in the following season.

He also had a two-year loan spell on the English side Middlesbrough, which was not particularly impressive, and returned to the K-league in 2008.

Since then he had been re-building his physical form and regaining his pace. He scored 26 goals for Jeonbuk Motors to claim the league title last season.

It seemed Lee would finally end his 12-year wait for his second World Cup since 1998. But because of Lee’s recent injury, it will all depend on Huh’s final decision.

Korea is now scheduled to play Spain on Thursday for their final warm up match before heading to South Africa.

By Oh Kyu-wook (