Korea Republic’s most capped player in the current squad, Lee Woon-Jae is regarded by many as the first choice goalkeeper during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Although he may not be the tallest among the South Korean custodians of all time, ‘Spider Hands’ has become one of the most reliable figures between the sticks.
In 1996, he began his professional career at Suwon Samsung Bluewings where he has enjoyed a series of successes including four national championships, two Korean FA Cups, two Super Cups as well as an Asian Club Championship in his 14 seasons so far.
Lee made his debut at the FIFA World Cup as a half-time substitute in Korea Republic’s final group game against Germany at USA 1994. With his confidence boosted by a solid performance in Dallas, he went on become a permanent fixture in the national team.
He was the first choice goalkeeper at the 2000 AFC Asian Cup in Lebanon where Korea Republic finished third under the guidance of coach Huh Jung-Moo. Despite missing out on the squad for France 1998, Lee returned to help his country achieve groundbreaking success at Korea/Japan 2002. He recorded two clean sheets in the victories over Poland and Portugal in the group stage before guiding the co-hosts into the last four with his heroics in the penalty shoot-out against Spain in the quarter-finals. Lee went on to feature in the semi-final against Germany and the third place match against Turkey, conceding six goals in seven games overall.
Despite wearing the captain’s armband for the first time in a major tournament, Lee’s second journey to the Asian Cup two years later was to be shortlived. Although he kept clean sheets against Jordan, UAE and Kuwait in the group stage, the Taeguk Warriors were eliminated in the quarter-finals after a 4-3 defeat by Iran.
Nevertheless, Lee was still an integral part of Korea Republic’s qualifying campaign for Germany 2006, conceding no more than seven times over the course of 12 matches in the second and the third round of the preliminary competition. But his third trip to the world finals came to a halt as the South Koreans made a premature exit from the group stage at Germany 2006.
Lee then went on to prove his worth again in the penalty shoot-outs against Iran and Japan in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, as Korea Republic finished third in the continental championship. Although he was subsequently suspended by the Korean FA for breaking team rules during the tournament, Lee returned in time for the crucial encounter with Saudi Arabia in the final round of qualifying for South Africa 2010 to lead his country to a 2-0 win in Riyadh in November 2008. He went on to take part in the remaining qualifiers, conceding only two goals in six matches as the Taeguk Warriors secured their seventh consecutive appearance at world football’s showpiece event.