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The last Taegeuk mark has already passed five years

Lee Seung-woo (26, Suwon FC) of the national team is nowhere to be seen again this time. He showed good performance including scoring goals in two consecutive opening games of the K-League, but failed to make it to the national team. The last time was June 2019. He has not been able to play with the national team for nearly five years.

He was as disappointed as he expected. In a home game against Jeonbuk Hyundai on the 9th, Lee Seung-woo dribbled past four to five defenders inside the penalty box and scored a fantastic goal in just one minute. He dribbled through the ball to shake the net. It was a "Lee Seung-woo-down" goal, as he boldly dribbled even when defense was concentrated and paid off. It was all the more significant in that he showed his presence in front of interim coach Hwang Sun-hong of the Korean national soccer team.

A week ago, he scored a dramatic penalty kick in extra time in the second half of the K-League opener against Incheon United, and scored two consecutive goals in the opening game. In addition, expectations and interest in returning to the national team have also increased, coupled with the fact that he has been consistently scoring double-digit goals in the K-League for the past two consecutive seasons, including 14 goals and 3 assists in the 2022 season, 10 goals and 3 assists in the 2023 season, and the expectation that there will be a major change under interim coach Hwang Sun-hong.

Lee also had a lot of will. "The motivation of all the players is the national team. As a new coach came to see us, I wanted to show more of them. As a result, I couldn't sleep well. I always want to go to the national team, but it's not a place where I can go if I want to. I want to do my best and show what I can. I think the earnestness and desire to go are stronger than any other player," Lee said.

However, Lee's name was not on the national team's roster. Coach Hwang held a press conference at the Korea Football Center in central Seoul on Wednesday and announced the list of the second Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup against Thailand on Feb. 21 and Feb. 26, but he excluded Lee after much consideration until the eve of the match. "This is the result of discussions with the coaches until the last minute before I saw FC Seoul and Incheon United on the previous day. I was excluded from the list considering the combination of two-term players and many other factors. I feel sorry for him," Hwang said.

This is the result of a combination of physical conditions, which is not 100 percent yet, and the national team's offense, which is highly competitive. In fact, Lee Seung-woo played as a substitute in the second half of the opening two games. He is not 100 percent conditioned yet due to pain in the heel. Coach Hwang instead selected key European players such as Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur) and Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain), as well as Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart) and Um Won-sang (Ulsan HD) as players for offense.

In the end, Lee Seung-woo was frustrated in front of the national flag once again. After his last A-team appearance in June 2019, he has been shunned by Portuguese and German coaches Paulo Bento (Portugal) and Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany). Under Bento's system, he was especially active in his first season in the K-League, but he always failed to make it to the list. This time again, he promised to come next amid deep regret.

Still, he cannot give up as he desperately wants to keep the national flag. If he recovers his 100 percent condition and demonstrates his steady presence, he will have another chance under the next coach system. Some say that Lee could have scored the goal only for Lee Seung-woo, and his bold penetration and sudden movements are his weapon. "I think the door to the national team is always open to all K-League players," coach Hwang Sun-hong also said. "I hope that Lee stays true without giving up or being disappointed."
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Wednesday, March 13, 2024
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