A talented forward with a sturdy physique, Lee Dong-Gook has long been regarded as a natural successor to the legendary striker Hwang Sun-Hong. But since his sensational debut at France 1998, the FIFA World CupÔ has eluded the 31-year-old for the past decade.
A Pohang native, Lee came through the ranks of the Steelers’ youth setup before making his first-team debut in 1998. He won his first cap in a friendly with Jamaica in May, and went on to take part in the summer’s FIFA World Cup. Although the Taeguk Warriors finished bottom of their group following the defeats by Mexico and the Netherlands, Lee emerged as a promising starlet in his brief appearance as a second-half substitute in a 5-0 drubbing by the Dutch.
Lee established himself in the youth teams at the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2000 Olympic Football Tournament, before winning the golden boot with six goals at the 2000 AFC Asian Cup where Korea Republic finished third.
After an unsuccessful loan spell at Werder Bremen in 2001, Lee was overlooked by Guus Hiddink in the build-up to Korea/Japan 2002 and had to watch the Taeguk Warriors storm into the last four on television. Although he played an important role in the qualifying for Gemany 2006 with five goals in eight matches, a knee injury two months before the finals denied him a chance to appear on the world stage once again.
It took almost three years for Lee to pull himself together after the disappointments, but proved his worth by leading Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to their first K-League title with 20 goals last season which earned him the Most Valuable Player award. He has also rediscovered his finishing touch in the national team, scoring important goals against Japan and Côte d’Ivoire in the build-up to South Africa 2010.