December 22, 2022 marks the official announcement of Lee Dong-joon’s (26) ‘K League U-turn’.

After playing for Ulsan HD FC, Lee moved to Hertha Berlin in the German professional soccer Bundesliga in January last year, but did not see the light of day on the German stage.

He was selected as one of the top 11 strikers in the K League in the 2021 season, but he only made four appearances in the Bundesliga.

He naturally fell out of favor with the national team, and was not even included in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where South Korea delighted soccer fans by reaching the round of 16.

Eventually, Lee made a desperate comeback to Korea by donning the colors of Jeonbuk, a rival club of his hometown club Ulsan, but it didn’t pay off.

In 23 regular-season games in 2023, Lee Dong-joon didn’t score a single goal. His two assists are all he has to show for it.

Along with Lee’s slump, Jeonbuk’s offense has also suffered. Jeonbuk has scored just 45 goals this season, far behind champions Ulsan (63) and second-place Pohang Steelers (53).

Their ranking in K League 1 (4th) is also their worst ever. Since 2013, when the promotion system was implemented, Jeonbuk has never finished lower than third.

As such, the final six matches of the 2023-2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) Group F against Bangkok United (Thailand) at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, Jeonbuk on Wednesday were crucial for both the club and the fans.

Jeonbuk needed a result in the ACL to redeem their tarnished reputation, and a loss would have put the club’s chances of reaching the round of 16 in the competition in jeopardy.

With a total of 20 clubs competing in five groups, the ACL East Asia group stage will see the first-place team from each group and the best three second-place teams advance to the round of 16.

Had Jeonbuk lost to Bangkok by a large margin, it would have brought Jeonbuk’s points total to nine, leaving them behind Group H runners-up Melbourne City (AUS – 9 points) on goal difference.

Already a year after joining Jeonbuk, Lee Dong-joon needed a performance to redeem his tarnished reputation.

With national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann preparing for the AFC Asian Cup next January, this was the final game of the season and Lee’s last chance to shine.

In a moment of desperate need, Lee didn’t stop with his first goal of the season, but exploded for a multi-goal performance.

He scored two goals in a two-minute span in the 31st minute of the second half when his opponent was down a man. In both goals, he showed his trademark ability to overwhelm opposing defenses in a speed race.

After finishing off Song Min-kyu’s penetrating pass for his first goal, Lee approached the fans, clasped his hands together and bowed his head, apologizing for his poor performance.

After the 3-2 victory at Anbang, which propelled the team into the ACL Round of 16, Lee said in a post-match broadcast interview, “It was my first goal of the season, so I was really happy. It’s really nice to score a goal before the end of the season,” he said.

“I think (advancing to the round of 16) was the result of the entire Jeonbuk team coming together as one,” he said, adding, “We will prepare well to make a good showing in the round of 16.”

There’s more good news for Lee Dong-joon: He’s about to get married. They are getting married on the 16th.

When the broadcasters congratulated him on the news, he smiled and replied, “Thank you very much.” 토토

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