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Lee Dong-gook scores 200th goal

Oct 31,2017
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Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrate their K League Classic victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Sunday. [YONHAP]
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Lee Dong-gook celebrates after scoring his 200th career goal during Jeonbuk’s match against Jeju United. [YONHAP]
It was the moment Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ fans were anticipating. On Sunday, Lee Dong-gook, the team’s star striker, scored his 200th career goal - a Korean league record - in a match against Jeju United at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.

“Honestly, I wanted to use him as a starting player, but since the regular season title was on the table, I had a lot of thoughts going through my head,” said Jeonbuk’s head coach, Choi Kang-hee. “Since Kim Shin-wook wasn’t able to play the previous game, I told him to be ready. Edu was also in great shape, so it was a hard decision.”

It took quite some time for Choi to make up his mind, but he finally decided to put Kim as a starter instead of Lee.

Until the kickoff, Jeonbuk was four points ahead of Jeju in the league standings, meaning Jeonbuk was in a position to become this season’s K League Classic champion if they defeated Jeju.

Although Lee was excluded from the starting lineup, he was substituted in at the 65th minute, when Jeonbuk was up by one goal to zero.

Shortly after Lee was substituted into the match, his teammate, Lee Seung-ki, scored Jeonbuk’s second goal to widen the lead.

By then, Lee Dong-gook was under pressure to score his 200th career goal. Fans were eager to see it happen, but Choi was worried it might have an effect on his performance.

“It’s not over if he can’t score his 200th goal by the end of this season,” Choi said before the match. “He’s not retiring, so I’ll make sure he sets the record by having him play for the next three months or so.”

And Lee delivered, scoring a header in the 78th minute from Ricardo Lopes Pereira’s assist.

Lee wasn’t the only one celebrating. The 3-0 victory over Jeju allowed Jeonbuk to become the season champions regardless of the results of the season’s two remaining matches. This is Jeonbuk’s fifth league victory.

The 38-year-old striker is having the best season of his career. In August, he was added to the Korean national football team for the first time in over two years, and in September, he became the first player in K League history to join the 70-70 club with 70 career goals and 70 assists.

Through Lee’s 20-year football career, he has had his share ups and downs. When he made an attempt to play in the European league - one season with Werder Bremen and two with Middlesbrough - he failed to perform, and when he played for Seongnam FC after returning from Europe, the striker couldn’t play up to expectations, scoring only two goals in 10 matches during the 2008-09 season.

The K League star got his groove back after transferring to Jeonbuk in 2009. Since then, Lee has consistently scored more than 10 goals every season to set a new league record for most career goals.

Despite Lee’s successful season, the Korean national football team’s head coach, Shin Tae-yong, excluded Lee from the roster in their upcoming friendly matches. Shin visited Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Sunday and witnessed Lee’s 200th goal.

“Lee Dong-gook has scored goals and showed great playing this season,” Shin said at a press conference on Monday. “But if Lee doesn’t play up to expectations for the national team, he’ll be criticized by fans.

“I believed that I should let the K League’s hero go while he’s at his best,” Shin said. “And since I had uncertainty whether he would be able to play until the World Cup next year, I decided to let him go.”

BY KIM HEE-SEON, PARK RIN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]