Updated August. 23, 2014 02:08
On May 16, 1998, a friendly match was being held between Korea and Jamaica at Seoul Olympic Stadium ahead of the France World Cup. Korea was ahead 2-1, 34th minute into the second half. A 19-year-old was brushing away raindrops from his face, anxiously waiting for someone by the Fourth Official outside the field.
The young player, who scored four goals in Cup tournaments as soon as he debuted on the pro soccer stage upon graduation from Pohang Jecheol Technical High School, exchanged a Hi Five with Hwang Sun-hong, his idol and the best striker in Korea at the time. After switching with Hwang, he dashed onto the ground under the eyes of the crowd of 30,000.
It was the debut of the Lion King Lee Dong-gook representing the Korean team. Two weeks before that, on May 1, 1998, Lee put his name on the World Cup team under manager Cha Bum-kun. His record for being the youngest member of the World Cup team remains unbroken. Since then, Lee has played in 99 international-level matches, and scored 30 goals. He is one match away from joining the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) official Century Club, bestowed on athletes with 100 or more caps.
Lee has the opportunity to be the ninth Korean Century Club member. It is considered certain that he will make the roster of the team to play against Venezuela and Uruguay in September. His play in the pro soccer K-League surpasses that of his peak, and it is reported that no member of the Korea Football Association Technical Committee is against his playing. Moreover, the tall forward Kim Shin-wook has been selected as wild card for the Incheon Asian Games Korean team, leaving Lee as the only tall one-top striker in Korea.
Once he makes the list of the Korean team announced on Monday, Lee will have served as many years as 16 years, four months representing Korea. If he is included in the roster, he will have played for the Korean national soccer team for as long as Lee Woon-jae who played 16 years and five months. The goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae debuted in international-level matches against the U.S. on March 5, 1994, and retired from representing Korea on Aug. 11, 2010 in a match against Nigeria. After a new Korean team manager takes office, if Lee Dong-gook is selected to represent Korea in four more international-level matches planned for October and November, Lee could pass Hwang Sun-hongs record of 103 matches and50 goals.
In the K-League, Lee is currently the top scorer with 10 goals and second in assists with six assists. Despite playing with athletes a dozen years younger, and despite being 35, which is geriatric in soccer, he is not lagging at all in competition with them.
Meanwhile, 27-year-old Venezuelan striker Luis Suarez, who currently plays for FC Barcelona, has been banned from nine international-level matches from FIFA for biting the opponents defender. He will not play in the friendly match with Korea.