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Soccer-Korea defender Lee bids emotional farewell to soccer

Reuters

By Narae Kim

SEOUL, Nov 14 (Reuters) - South Korea full back Lee

Young-pyo bid an emotional farewell to soccer on Thursday,

offering an honest yet somewhat harsh self-assessment of a

successful career that spanned three continents and took him to

the World Cup semi-finals in 2002.

Lee won two Dutch titles with PSV Eindhoven before becoming

one of the first Koreans to play in the English Premier League,

at Tottenham Hotspur, and ended his 13-year career last month

with the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada.

"I am wrapping up my career that was filled with the joy of

victory and agony of defeat and would like to bid goodbye," the

36-year-old Lee told a news conference as he read a prepared

statement.

"I also want to apologise to many fans. Korea's biggest

weakness in the 2000s was an unstable defence and I was part of

the problem. It may have been not so obvious but there were many

games my team lost because of me," he added.

"If I were to evaluate my overall performance, I would award

myself 80 points (out of 100) as a player but 100 as a person

who enjoyed and loved soccer."

Lee played in three consecutive World Cups from 2002 and

finished his international career as the country's third

most-capped player with 127. Only 2002 team mates Hong Myung-bo

(135) and former goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae (132) have won more.

While Lee enjoyed playing stints in England, the

Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Canada, he said the highlight of

his career was representing his country, including the memorable

run to the semi-finals on home soil.

Riding a wave of home support and under the expert

leadership of Dutchman Guus Hiddink, South Korea beat Portugal,

Italy and Spain to become the first Asian side to reach the last

four of a World Cup before their progress was halted by Germany.

"Every single match I played with the national flag on my

uniform is meaningful. It was when I put my right hand on my

left chest that I realised the genuine pleasure of soccer...

that it is a sport 'we' play, not 'I'."

Although he declined to give specific details of his future

plans, Lee said he hoped to help the development of Korean

soccer with local media reports suggesting he would remain with

the Vancouver Whitecaps to improve his administrative skills.

The Korean Football Association will also hold a retirement

ceremony "Adieu #12" for Lee during South Korea's friendly match

against Switzerland on Friday.

Lee played his final professional match for Vancouver

against the Colorado Rapids in the last round of the Major

League Soccer regular season on Oct. 27.

He joined the MLS club in 2011.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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