Ulsan: Lee Dong-gyeong has admitted that Ulsan Hyundai are eyeing silverware in 2020 as the K League side aim to make up for last year’s disappointment after missing out on the title on the final day of the season.
The Horangi came agonisingly close to being crowned champions of Korea Republic for the first time since 2005, only for a heavy final-day defeat to Pohang Steelers to allow Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to pip them at the post and claim their third successive title.
While the 2019 campaign ended in bitter disappointment, it had been a breakthrough season for the 22-year-old midfielder, who started 24 of his side’s games following a loan spell with second-tier club FC Anyang in 2018.
Now, after its initial postponement due to the COVID-19 outbreak, K League action is set to get underway behind closed doors at the weekend, with Ulsan opening their campaign at home to Sangju Sangmu on Saturday.
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“Of course, the first and foremost goal of the team this year is to win trophies,” said Lee Dong-gyeong, who was part of the Korea Republic side that tasted AFC U23 Championship glory in Thailand earlier this year.
“We know Jeonbuk is a giant of the league, but it’s not just them we need to think about – we need to beat every opponent we face in the league.
“Last year was my first full year as a first-team player at Ulsan and I think personally, and as a team, we learnt a lot from what happened. Now we have to prove that we have learnt these lessons on the pitch.”
In what was a busy off-season for Ulsan, the 2019 K League MVP Kim Bo-kyung’s loan spell ended and the midfielder subsequently signed for Jeonbuk, while Lee Chung-yong was brought in to replace his international compatriot after spending more than a decade in Europe.
Goalkeeper Oh Seung-hoon also departed but Ulsan signaled their intent by acquiring Korea Republic international Jo Hyeon-woo from Daegu FC to take his place between the posts, while Norwegian striker Bjorn Johnsen and defender Kim Kee-hee were other new signings ahead of the 2020 season.
"A large number of players went out and came in during the transfer window, but we have to adapt and be one team with good chemistry," noted Lee Dong-gyeong.
“Lee Chung-yong is an exemplary player for young players to look at; the way he carries himself and how he looks after himself physically is textbook.
“He has so much experience from his time in Europe and with the national team, while he is also an excellent man off the pitch as well.
"We have come a long way during pre-season training, and this has made us stronger as a team. We are confident and excited for the season to start."
While Lee Chung-yong and the likes of Lee Keun-ho and Park Joo-ho offer a wealth of experience in the Ulsan line-up, there will also be plenty expected of Ulsan’s talented crop of youngsters ahead of the new season.
Both Lee Dong-gyeong and Won Du-jae were integral parts of the Korea Republic side that lifted the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 title in January to qualify for the now postponed Tokyo Olympics.
Defender Won was named the tournament’s MVP while Lee, who was often used as an impact substitute, scored a pair of crucial goals in the knockout rounds, including a stoppage-time winner against Jordan in the quarter-finals as he showed he was the man for the big occasion.
“Playing at an international tournament like that does help a player grow a lot in a short period of time,” admitted Lee.
“Won Du-jae and I had the privilege to stay fit by playing these competitive matches this year while most other players in the league have not had this opportunity, so I am pretty sure this can help.
“[In terms of goals], we have many players capable of scoring at Ulsan, so this is not something I want to be too obsessed with – we can all contribute together.”
In addition to competitive U23 action, Lee was also in the line-up for Ulsan’s opening 2020 AFC Champions League fixture against J.League side FC Tokyo in February.
The Group F game ended in a 1-1 stalemate and the tournament was subsequently postponed, but the Continental competition is one which resonates strongly with the Daegu native, who was on the sidelines during their finest hour.
“When Ulsan lifted the AFC Champions League trophy in 2012, I was a ball boy at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium and, ever since seeing such a moment, I have been dreaming of bringing glory back to the club,” added Lee.
“Every single match counts, especially in tournaments like the AFC Champions League, and I will do everything I can when the competition resumes.”
Click HERE for the K League's results, fixtures and standings.
Photos: Ulsan Hyundai
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