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Veteran Jeonbuk striker still hungry for more

All Headlines 17:35 December 01, 2016

By Joo Kyung-don

WANJU, South Korea, Dec. 1 (Yonhap) -- Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Lee Dong-gook is one of the most decorated footballers in South Korea, but he said Thursday he's hungry for even more.

Lee, 37, recently completed the final piece of his puzzle with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League title. Jeonbuk claimed their first Asian title since 2006 after edging Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates at the AFC Champions League (ACL) final on 3-2 aggregate last month.

It was Lee's first continental title since the premier Asian club tournament had changed its format in 2003. He previously won the Asian Club Championship when he was with the Pohang Steelers in 1998.

"I'm really happy to win the ACL title, which was my goal for the season," he said at a media event at Jeonbuk's clubhouse in Wanju, North Jeolla Province, on Thursday. "I thought this year could be my last chance (to win the ACL title). I was anxious until the final whistle."

Now with the coveted Asian title, Lee said he will search for other goals, but it's going to be about his team.

"I was surprised when I realized that I won that many individual honors and tournament experiences," said Lee who is also the 1998 K League Rookie of the Year. "For the remainder of my football career, I will always set a goal for my team."

Since making his pro debut in 1998, Lee has accomplished almost everything that a footballer can enjoy. He is the all-time leading scorer in the South Korean pro football league and the ACL.

Lee has won four championships and four MVP awards at the top-flight K League Classic. He also had stints in the German Bundesliga and English Premier League.

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

Lee said he will try to help Jeonbuk win both the domestic league and the ACL next year. Jeonbuk have never achieved the league-ACL double in the same year in their club history. This year, they finished as runners-up in the K League Classic behind FC Seoul.

"Many people ask me about future goals, so perhaps I should say that I'm looking to play at the 2018 FIFA World Cup," Lee said jokingly. "What's certain is that I will always push myself next year and take on new challenges."

Lee has no time to rest. He will first have to prepare for the FIFA Club World Cup that kicks off next Thursday in Japan. The seven-team FIFA tournament features the winners of the continental club championships plus the host country's national champions.

As the Asian champions, Jeonbuk can set up a semifinal clash with Spanish giants Real Madrid if they beat Mexico's Club America from the North, Central America and Caribbean region in their opening match.

No Asian club has reached the final. Among the South Korean clubs, Pohang have posted the best result so far with a third-place finish in 2009.

"We should do better than finishing in third place," he said. "I really want to win the first match against Club America. Against Real Madrid, I hope we can play a tight match and earn a victory in the end."

Asked if he'd like to meet any players from Real Madrid, Lee quipped, "Maybe they should be looking forward to meeting me."

Turning more serious, Lee said he wants to score against Real Madrid, which boast a record 11 UEFA Champions League trophies.

"During our preseason, I scored my first goal of this year against (Borussia) Dortmund," he said. "I want to wrap up this year by scoring a goal against Real Madrid."

The former Werder Bremen and Middlesbrough forward said the players are exhausted because their season would typically be over by now. However, he said they are determined to show their best performance on the world stage.

"We have to start all over again after lifting the (ACL) trophy," he said. "If we're in the middle of the season, we should be able to match them, but we do feel a little pressure right now. Since we can rest after this tournament, our players should do their best until the end."

Lee said he personally feels that he's got some stamina left as he hasn't played in many full matches this season. Whether or not he comes off the bench in the second half, Lee said he is ready to give his all.

After all, he is a happy man to play for Jeonbuk.

"When people hear about our club's hometown Jeonju, they first think about things like bibimbap," he said. "But I think this club has added the image of a football city. I like playing wearing Jeonbuk's jersey. Green is even my favorite color now."

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Lee Dong-gook speaks during a press conference at Jeonbuk's clubhouse in Wanju, North Jeolla Province, on Dec. 1, 2016. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr
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