It was a farewell on two different levels for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ Lee Jongho. While the forward was playing in Jeonbuk’s final match at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, the 24-year-old was also bidding goodbye to the Jeonju-based side.
Before Jeonbuk’s victory against CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns in the match for fifth place at Japan 2016, it was announced that Lee – along with team-mates Kim Changsoo and Choi Kyubaek – would be departing the Green Warriors for fellow Korea Republic side Ulsan Hyundai.
Despite his confirmed exit, Lee marked his first and final Japan 2016 appearance with a goal, scoring the second in the Green Warriors’ commanding 4-1 win over South Africa’s Sundowns.
“I’m proud to get a goal in the final match and I just want to say to the fans that they’ve been great this season,” Lee, who joined Jeonbuk earlier this year from K League Classic side Jeonnam Dragons, said in conversation with FIFA.com.
“We’re the pride of Asian club football and we wanted to show that to the world. We wanted to get a result for Asian football fans and it was important to end our final Club World Cup match with a win.”
Lee bid an emotional farewell when he was substituted late on in the match for fifth place, being replaced on the pitch by towering frontman Kim Shinwook. The forward was embraced by his team-mates in the dug-out, paying tribute to his goal and the forward’s one-season stint with Jeonbuk.
“We made the announcement before the game and I was afraid that it might have a negative impact on the team but it was not in the end,” said Jeonbuk manager Choi Kanghee. “We have a win-win relationship with Ulsan and I had already announced that Lee would start and, in the end, the news was not relevant. He was able to play at his best and even scored. I’m glad he got the glory.”
Having spent his entire career at Jeonnam Dragons, Lee made the move to Jeonbuk at the beginning of 2016. His year at the Jeonju side was a memorable one, lifting the AFC Champions League in his first campaign with the Green Warriors.
Winning the continental title gave Lee the chance to showcase himself at the 2016 Club World Cup, an opportunity he relished when presented with the opportunity by manager Choi.
“It’s exciting to play at the Club World Cup and test yourself against the best teams in the world,” Lee said. “Even though we only played two matches, I enjoyed sampling a lot of different styles of football and I learned a lot because of it.”
A veteran of the U-17 and U-20 FIFA World Cups with Korea Republic, playing an integral part in the former that reached the quarter-finals of Nigeria 2009, Lee graduated to the senior side in 2015, earning his first cap and scoring on his debut against China PR.
“I’m very ambitious and want to do well," said. "I feel proud to wear the national team shirt and I’m always proud to play in front of Korean fans.”
Korea Republic, who have qualified for every FIFA World Cup™ since 1986, currently sit second in Group A in the third round of AFC qualifying. When asked if he has ambitions of breaking into the senior side and making a potential appearance at Russia 2018, Lee said: “Of course. I want to keep focused and working hard to make it happen.”