Veteran midfielder trying to put younger teammates in position to succeed

DOHA– In the days leading up to his first FIFA World Cup in Russia four years ago, South Korean midfielder Lee Jae-sung felt intimidated and nervous. He had to lean on older teammates for emotional support.

Four years later in Qatar, Lee, now 30 and back for his second World Cup, is part of the leadership group tasked with guiding 20-something teammates. And it’s a role Lee has embraced wholeheartedly.
“I want to make sure these young guys don’t feel the kind of pressure and stress that I felt in the past,” Lee said at a press conference Thursday following South Korea’s training session at Al Egla Training Facility in Doha. “I also want to instill a sense of responsibility in them. A moment like this may never come again, and so I want them to enjoy this experience and not have any regrets at the end.”

On South Korea’s 26-man roster, Lee is one of just eight players with prior World Cup experience. But he said he wasn’t too worried about 18 World Cup rookies, because they already seem to be savoring their experience.

Lee noted he himself has changed over the past four years.

“I learned so much in Russia then, and I felt really motivated to embark on a career in Europe after that,” said Lee, who has been playing in Germany since July 2018 after five years in South Korea’s K League. “I’ve been playing against some tough competition in Germany, and I think that should have a positive impact on my preparation for the World Cup. I am not afraid anymore. I am excited and can’t wait to get going.”

South Korea’s first match in Group H will be next Thursday against Uruguay. South Korea will be heavy underdogs against the 12th-ranked Uruguay, but Lee said South Korea will not go down without fighting.

“We may not match them in one-on-one skills, but football is a team sport involving 11 players,” Lee said. “With a strong team effort, we will be competitive against them.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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