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Veteran striker ready to give all in AFC Champions League final

2016/11/25 10:28

ABU DHABI, Nov. 25 (Yonhap) -- Since making his pro debut in 1998, South Korean striker Lee Dong-gook has enjoyed it all.

Lee, now with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the top flight K League Classic, is the all-time leading scorer in the South Korean pro football league. He has won four first division championships and four MVP awards. He also had stints in the German Bundesliga and English Premier League.

For South Korea, he scored 33 goals in 103 matches. He has experienced two FIFA World Cups, the Summer Olympics, the Asian Games and even the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Despite his decorative career, Lee still covets one more thing: the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League trophy.

Jeonbuk currently await their second leg of the AFC Champions League (ACL) final against Al Ain. It will be staged at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on Saturday.

The South Korean giants are well-positioned to win the continental title. Jeonbuk beat Al Ain 2-1 in the first leg of the ACL final last week, meaning a draw will be enough to secure the ACL crown.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Lee Dong-gook speaks to reporters after his team's training session at a football field near the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 24, 2016, two days ahead of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League final second leg between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Al Ain. (Yonhap) Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Lee Dong-gook speaks to reporters after his team's training session at a football field near the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 24, 2016, two days ahead of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League final second leg between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Al Ain. (Yonhap)

Lee does have one Asian club competition title under his belt. He won the Asian Club Championship in 1998, when he was with Pohang Steelers.

After the AFC launched the ACL in 2002, Lee, however, has yet to experience the continental title.

When Jeonbuk claimed the ACL title in 2006, Lee wasn't with the club. He joined Jeonbuk in 2009.

In 2011, Lee was named the ACL MVP and won the scoring title, but Jeonbuk ended up as the runners-up after falling to Qatari side Al Saad.

"I can't forget that painful moment in 2011," Lee told reporters after a training session at a football field in Abu Dhabi on Friday (Korean time). "I can't let my guard down until the final whistle."

   For Lee, this could be his last opportunity to lift the ACL trophy. He is 37 years old.

"Young players will have many opportunities to win this title but not me," he said. "I'm preparing for tomorrow's match as if it's my last chance to win the ACL title."

   Lee is currently the all-time leading scorer in the ACL with 32 goals, but he wants to improve his tally.

"My personal goal scoring record is important, but if I can just score for my team in the final, it will be very meaningful," he said.

Lee is likely to start the second leg from the bench. Jeonbuk head coach Choi Kang-hee has been using towering striker Kim Shin-wook as his first option in recent matches.

Lee was a second-half substitute in the first leg but showed what he can do. While Jeonbuk was trailing 1-0, he set up Brazilian attacker Leonardo to score an equalizer in the 70th minute. He also helped Kim earn a penalty in the 77th as the 28-year-old striker was brought down by an Al Ain defender in the box while chasing Lee's cross.

"I don't know whether I will start in the first half or play in the second half, but I'm ready," he said. "Everyone has his own role. If we can just win the title, I don't care if I just play for a short time."

   kdon@yna.co.kr

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