South Korean striker Lee to retire at end of season

FILE PHOTO: South Korea's Lee Dong-gook celebrates his goal against Costa Rica during their friendly soccer match at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

HONG KONG (Reuters) - South Korean striker and Asian Champions League record goal scorer Lee Dong-gook has said he will bring an end to his 23-year career at the end of the season.

The 41-year-old, who has won two Asian club titles, will play his last domestic league game for Jeonbuk Motors against Daegu on Nov. 1, a match that could bring him an eighth Korean league crown.

"It’s been 23 years for me as a pro, however it felt like one lost year for me because I was not been able to fully enjoy this time as a player with many people due to COVID-19," Lee said in a video posted on Youtube.

"Putting an end to this season full of regret and gratitude, I have decided to leave the field on which I poured out everything in my entire life.

"Although I will not be called a soccer player any more, I made the decision to retire since I believe it is not the end, but the start of something new."

Lee started his career with Pohang Steelers and quickly established himself as one of the finest strikers in Asian football, helping his club to the 1987/88 Asian Club Championship title.

He was included in the South Korea squad for the 1998 World Cup, and at the Asian Cup finals in 2000 finished top scorer.

A combination of injury and loss of form saw him omitted from Guus Hiddink’s squad which reached the 2002 World Cup semi-finals on home soil.

After short, unsuccessful spells in Europe with Werder Bremen and Middlesbrough, Lee returned to prominence in Korea, initially with Seonngam Ilhwa in 2008 before switching to Jeonbuk Motors a year later.

He went on to win seven K League titles with Jeonbuk as well as the 2016 Asian Champions League, while he is also the leading scorer in the history of the continental championship with 37 goals.

"Thinking that the upcoming home game is the last match as number 20 with the fans I feel more nervous than ever, with the memory of my pro debut match, and I already feel a lump in my throat," Lee said.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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