Lee Dong-gook tips Uzbekistan to impress
Jeonju: 2000 AFC Asian Cup Top Scorer Lee Dong-gook believes Hector Cuper's side can build on the promise shown at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship and 2018 Asian Games.
With 14 AFC Asian Cup goals - second only to Islamic Republic of Iran legend Ali Daei in the all-time list - Korea Republic icon Lee knows a thing or two about success at the continent's most prestigious tournament.
And, while he does believe that it could be Korea Republic's time to end their 58-year Asian Cup title drought at UAE 2019, it is another nation that also intrigues the 39-year-old veteran.
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"A real possibility as a surprise team, or dark horse, at UAE 2019 is Uzbekistan," says Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Lee.
"They have a young and talented squad, maybe we could even call it a golden generation.
"If not this Asian Cup then maybe the next one they could be the best side. They've grown up together, played together from the beginning, and such unity and understanding amongst the players could be a threat to other teams.
"I saw them in the recent Asian Games and they were very impressive."
As for his home nation, while Lee is not keen to outright state that the title is their's for the taking, he is certain on which team he and the Korean public would like to see the Taeguk Warriors face in the AFC Asian Cup final should they get there.
"The most exciting scenario for fans would be for Korea to play Japan in the final," says Lee, who took part in three AFC Asian Cup campaigns in 2000, 2004 and 2007.
"If Korea could beat Japan in the final, the whole country would go crazy. It’s always been like that. Many fans would love to see Korea play Japan in the final."
For Korea to have any chance of reaching this much-anticipated showdown, Lee admits that Paulo Bento's men will need to find another attacking outlet to compliment superstar forward Son Heung-min, someone more in the mould of a traditional front man - a new Lee Dong-gook.
"Having that option would absolutely make the whole team stronger. I believe Son Heung-min can get more chances to score when he is playing off a striker who is seen as the central threat," he says.
"If this targetman can take away defenders from Son, then he will have less pressure, more space to operate on the field, and chances to score."
One player that seems to be the leading candidate is Gamba Osaka striker Hwang Ui-jo, who capped off an impressive 2018 season by being named the club's MVP.
"Yes, I believe that Hwang Ui-jo is the guy who should play with Son as a teammate. Hwang is very talented and has a good positional sense," adds Lee.
"He is also a fine finisher but he needs to know how to play against teams that defend deeply in numbers. If he can improve himself and go up a level, then it will be positive for Son too.
"In that situation, we have a better chance of going all the way to the final."
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