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Ageless wonder in S. Korean football comes through in dull season opener

All News 22:16 May 08, 2020

JEONJU, South Korea, May 8 (Yonhap) -- At 41, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Lee Dong-gook is the oldest player in K League 1 football this year.

And by scoring the winning goal against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the 2020 season opener Friday, Lee sent a message across the league loud and clear: that he isn't just hanging around, hoping to play out the string.

Lee headed home a Son Jun-ho corner in the 84th minute to seal the 1-0 win at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul. He raised his all-time leading goals total to 225.

Lee Dong-gook of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrates his goal against Suwon Samsung Bluewings with a "Thank You" sign for front-line medical workers during the 2020 K League 1 season opener at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on May 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

It was the first match of the season, which has been delayed by more than two months because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lee's goal salvaged three points for Jeonbuk in a match that seemed destined for a scoreless draw. Jeonbuk spent the majority of the second half in Suwon's zone, but the Bluewings crowded the box and kept foiling chance after chance.

It was only after Suwon midfielder Terry Antonis was sent off with a direct red card that Jeonbuk were able to break through. Son caught the defense by surprise by taking a quick corner, and Lee redirected it in with his head.

"We had a man advantage, and it was late enough in the match that I felt we just needed one goal to win," Lee said. "We'd practiced similar plays on set pieces, and we got the result we wanted."

Lee and his teammates celebrate the goal with their "Thank You" hand sign -- the right hand with the thumbs up placed on the palm of the left hand -- and Lee said the players had planned to make the gesture, no matter who scored. It was to show their appreciation for front-line medical and health workers who've made it possible for football to begin.

"I am just thankful and happy that we've begun our season," Lee said. "I won't even think about my stats this year. I am grateful that I am playing these matches at all."

Lee Dong-gook of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (R) controls the ball during the 2020 K League 1 season opener against Suwon Samsung Bluewings at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on May 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

The early portion of the season will be held without fans. While the government has given green lights to both the K League and Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) to begin their seasons, doors to the stadiums will remain closed until further notice.

But both leagues have drawn plenty of international interest by virtue of being among the few sports leagues playing. ESPN will be carrying six KBO games a week this season in the United States. The K League has struck deals with broadcasters in 36 countries, including the BBC. And the opening match was streamed live worldwide on YouTube and Twitter.

"We have made a lot of strides in the K League," said Lee, who had a cup of coffee in the Premier League. "I wanted to show international fans that this is a quality league."

The 2020 K League 1 season opener between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Samsung Bluewings is under way at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, on May 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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