Goalies face off for spot on the national team

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Goalies face off for spot on the national team

A matchup that could determine who mans the net for the national team at the 2010 South Africa World Cup will begin at the Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, Gyeonggi, tonight at 7:30.

Starting in the net for the home club, the Suwon Bluewings, is veteran goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae. Opposite Lee for the visiting Seongnam Chunma Ilhwa is Jung Sung-ryong. Lee has been struggling in the K-League this season and Jung has a shot at impressing national team manager Huh Jung-moo and goalkeeper coach Kim Hyun-tae, who will be attending the game.

The 37-year-old Lee is at a crossroads. If he shines, he could put the skepticism to rest and compete in his final World Cup as a starter. If he continues to struggle, he could end up being demoted to a reserve role.

In the match against FC Seoul on April 4, Lee gave up three goals in eight minutes in the first half. He has allowed a total of 12 goals in five games in league matches this season, and has been under heavy fire of late, as questions zing about whether the aging keeper’s better days are behind him.

“Lee’s strength is his excellent reflexes, which let him pressure opposing forwards by cutting down the angles,” explained national goalkeeper coach Kim. “He’s experienced, so we can trust him to stand up under the pressure of big matches. But we didn’t see Lee’s strong points in the match against FC Seoul. We’re going to watch him until the start of the World Cup.”

Lee, for his part, is ready to prove the naysayers wrong. He made his World Cup debut in 1994 in the second half of the group match against Germany as a Kyung Hee University junior, and he’s determined to compete in his fifth World Cup as a starter.

“I’m going to take this opportunity to reflect on my play. I’ll show that I still have the ability to play at an elite level,” stated Lee.

If Lee should falter, Jung is seen as the most suitable candidate to start in the net for the national team. Jung made his debut with the national team as a second-half substitute in the Jan. 30, 2008, friendly match against Chile, which also was Huh’s first game as the team’s manager. With Lee serving a suspension, Jung started in most of the World Cup qualifiers. But Jung often looked shaky in the net. When Lee returned to the national team in the final phase of the qualifiers, Jung was relegated to the backup role.

“I’ll prepare to play up to my full potential should something happen and an opportunity present itself,” Jung said.

“At 190 centimeters [6 feet 3 inches], he has the height, reach and agility. His strength is his patience and ability to watch the ball until the very end in one-on-one and penalty-kick situations,” said Seongnam coach Cha Sang-kwang. “Jung needs to work on intercepting opponent’s crosses and he comes up short in the leadership department compared to Lee. But in my opinion, Jung is fully capable of playing in the World Cup.”

By Choi Won-chang [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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