It seems Korea Republic coach Huh Jung-Moo has finally found the answer to his side's scoring problems. He had been experimenting with various forwards and combinations throughout Asian Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and he therefore celebrated wildly when the Taegeuk Warriors beat United Arab Emirates 4-1 at home earlier this month.
The man chiefly responsible for putting a rare smile on Huh's face was Lee Keun-Ho, who scored twice that night, four days after netting a brace against Uzbekistan in a friendly. "This is only the beginning of a spree," promised the all-action striker afterwards. "I am still young and need more goals to prove myself."
The 23-year-old began his professional career at Incheon United in 2004, but could not establish himself as a first-team player until a switch to Daegu FC last year. It was there that Lee found his touch, putting his name on the scoresheet ten times and earning inclusion into the K-League's Best XI at the end of the season. A call-up to the national team followed, and he duly scored on his debut, in a friendly with Iraq on 29 June 2007.
However, the AFC Asian Cup that summer was a forgettable experience for Lee, who warmed the bench as Korea Republic lost in the semi-finals. With Lee Dong-Gook and Lee Chun-Soo ahead of him in the pecking order, he was only afforded one substitute's appearance in the third place play-off with Japan.
Despite the disappointing experience, Lee returned to Korea Republic's U-23 side, for whom he scored three goals in nine matches, including the stunning left-footed volley which sealed a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan. Having established himself as an integral part of the side, Lee helped his country qualify for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament for the sixth successive time.
It was, therefore, a natural choice for senior coach Moo, who was without the suspended Lee Dong-Gook and out-of-form Lee Chun-Soo, to summon Lee into his squad for the South Africa 2010 qualifiers in June. And although he could not find the net against Jordan, Turkmenistan and Korea DPR in the third round, the performances of 'Little Lee' hinted he was becoming the next big thing on the Korean football scene.
With the final round of the Asian preliminaries approaching its halfway point, Korea Republic will have to improve their poor record against Middle Eastern sides if they are to maintain pole position in Group 2. They are level on points with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Korea DPR, with the UAE pointless at the foot, as they chase the two automatic qualification spots to South Africa 2010.
Lee's brace has put the South Koreans top of the section on goal difference, although they face the uphill task of playing Saudi Arabia in Riyadh next month. Korea Republic have, in fact, never beat the Saudis in 19 years, and lost twice to them en route to Germany 2006.
However, Lee is not worrying about the strength of Nasser Al-Johar's side. "," he said. "We know there is talk of a crisis in Korean football, so I will try not to disappoint our fans in the games to come."