Prolific Lee out to fire Korea Republic to Olympic victories

  • Lee Dongjun tested positive for Covid-19 last November 

  • He made a full recovery and scored six goals for Ulsan Hyundai this season 

  • The in-form midfielder has his sights on success with Korea Republic at Tokyo 2020  

Success and failure. Joys and upsets. Excitement and disappointment; 2020 had it all for Lee Dongjun. 

It started so well for the midfielder. He impressed as Korea Republic were group winners in Asian qualifying for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Tokyo. There was the excitement of a stoppage-time match-winner in the opening game against China before he then broke the deadlock against IR Iran as Korea enjoyed a 2-1 win.  

Ulsan Hyundai midfielder Lee Dongjun (L2) competes for the ball.

Such performances came on the back of a notable campaign in 2019 when he netted 13 goals and claimed 7 assists as Busan IPark earned promotion to the Korean top flight.  

And then things started to go wrong. First up was the disappointment of a move to Portugal falling through when a deal with Vitoria de Guimaraes collapsed, all compounded by Busan's relegation. Then, on his first call-up to a national team training camp in Austria last November, Dongjun tested positive for Covid-19 and missed the games against Mexico and Qatar.  

"I had no symptoms in Austria but suddenly I was told that (tested positive)," the 24-year-old told "Immediately I was quarantined in a hotel. It was a very difficult time. But thanks to the care by our medical team, I was able to recover soon.  "With Busan I went from joy to sadness. I was full of hopes after our promotion to the first division but we were relegated after just a season and it was so sad. I think my experience with Busan helped me grow faster."  

Learning from a legend 

Dongjun recovered his fitness and moved to Ulsan Hyundai where he was grateful to have the opportunity to play under legendary South Korean internationalist Hong Myungbo. He scored six time as Ulsan moved to the top of the K League table. Working under Myungbo, the first Asian player to feature at four consecutive FIFA World Cups™ and the first Asian player to win the Bronze Ball, Dongjun has been thrilled to take his game to another level. 

"Our coach is a legend,” he said. “It is an honour to play under his guidance. It's only been a few months [since joining Ulsan] but I've been learning a lot in many ways," he said.  

Deployed as a winger, usually on the right flank, his pace, vision, dribbling and finishing have made life tough for K League defenders. Still, though, there is a drive to keep improving.  

Ulsan Hyundai midfielder Lee Dongjun (R) celebrates after scoring a goal.

"I think I should perform better,” he said. “I want to do better and be a bigger contributor to the team. I think I still have a lot more to showcase in front of our fans. My goals are to win the K League title with Ulsan."  

Olympic ambitions 

On the back of his domestic form, Dongjun earned his international debut for the senior national team when he featured in a friendly against Japan in March. The match ended in a 3-0 defeat but there have been lessons learned from it.     "I felt sorry for the result in my first international match,” he said. “This was not good for a national team player. But I think I learned something from it. I believe the experience will help me improve."  

Now on the cusp of the Tokyo Olympics, Dongjun – who caught the eye in a 2-2 warm-up game against Argentina – is thrilled at the chance to perform on a global stage.  

"It made me excited to be selected into the national Olympic squad. The Olympics is a setting where you are watched by the entire world. I am thinking of nothing but to do my job well and help our team to victories."  

*Photos courtesy of Ulsan Hyundai