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Match with S. Korea has extra meaning for Lee

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Tadanari Lee is hoping to finally get the chance to realize a boyhood dream and play against South Korea on Wednesday night — as a Blue Samurai.

Lee was not used in Japan’s 3-0 penalty shootout semifinal win over South Korea after a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Asian Cup in January, but made a big statement when he came off the bench to score a sensational winner in the 1-0 extra-time defeat of Australia in the final.

“I couldn’t play against them (South Korea) at the Asian Cup and I have always hoped I could play against them at some point,” Lee said ahead of the World Cup qualifying warmup at Sapporo Dome.

“It would be a more special memory for me than anyone else. It is a game that I have aspired to play in and I am thoroughly looking forward to it.”

The 25-year-old forward, who is currently joint top scorer in the J. League with 10 goals, was born in Tokyo as a fourth-generation South Korean resident before he was naturalized in 2007 so he could play at the Beijing Olympics the following year.

But it was not until Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni called him up for the Asian Cup that Lee got his break with the senior national side.

Lee, whose only goal so far is the Asian Cup winner in four appearances, three as a substitute, says he is not sure what kind of reaction he will get from fans of South Korea if he plays for their bitter rivals.

“I don’t know what kind of reaction I will get from the South Korea supporters but I am sure they will be taking notice,” said Lee.

“I have just got to put everything out there and show what I am capable of. This is a World Cup warmup for both teams and hopefully it will be a good match.”

“I don’t want to lose. I have been looking toward this game since taking Japanese nationality. I am a striker and my strength is scoring and I want to show what I’ve got.”

Lee faces stiff competition for a starting place with the likes of Shinji Okazaki, who is fresh from scoring for Stuttgart in their season-opening win over Atsuto Uchida’s Schalke at the weekend.

Zaccheroni has called up 14 European-based players for a match he expects to be anything but friendly.

“It is a friendly but with South Korean players the atmosphere won’t be very friendly,” said Zaccheroni. “This is our last game before the qualifiers and will be very important.”