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South Korea warn against LVG, AVB rumours

South Korea
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 By Paul Murphy

Muang Thong United sign Korean midfielder Lee Ho for 2017 ACL

Lee Ho of Muang Thong United
Lee Ho, left, played in the 2006 World Cup and has appeared in the Europa League for Zenit St Petersburg.

Thai champions Muang Thong United have stepped up preparations for this year's AFC Champions League (ACL) campaign by signing veteran South Korean midfielder Lee Ho from Asian champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Lee's experience could prove invaluable as the Kirins get set to take on Japanese champions Kashima Antlers, and two other teams, when they return to the ACL group stage for the first time since 2013. And the former South Korean international will be hoping to relaunch a career that has stalled as he has found himself increasingly struggling for game time in the K League.

Lee was part of the Ulsan Hyundai team that won the ACL in 2012, while the 32-year-old was a member of the Jeonbuk squad who were triumphant in 2016, though he made just one appearance in the latter campaign.

Lee also played a role in Russian side Zenit St Petersburg's Europa League victory back in 2008. At that time, he played alongside former Muang Thong centre back Kim Dong-Jin. In addition, Lee won 26 caps for the South Korean national side, including three appearances at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Lee has also played with Al Ain in the UAE, and Omiya Ardija in Japan, and Kirins fans will hope that he can now use his vast experience to help Muang Thong into the knockout stages of the ACL.

Having won their first Thai League title since 2012 last year, Muang Thong aim to make an impact in the continent's elite competition for the first time. The Kirins have fallen at the playoff stage in two of the last three years -- to Melbourne Victory in 2014 and to Shanghai SIPG last year.

Their last participation in the group stage ended in bitter disappointment in 2013 as they lost five of six games -- a home draw with Jeonbuk earning their only point. Prior to that, Muang Thong slipped out at the playoff stage to Indonesian and Singaporean opponents.

Totchtawan Sripan's side should be a different proposition to previous years as they now have the majority of the Thai national side in their first XI, alongside the likes of former Newcastle United striker Xisco Jimenez, and the prolific Brazilian Cleiton Silva.

Thailand's highly rated playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin joins Consadole Sapporo on loan in the middle of 2017, but he should play in the centre of the park, alongside Lee, in the ACL before his move to Japan. The South Korean could slot into the defensive midfield role made vacant by Tanaboon Kesarat's shock move to Chiang Rai United.

Lee will be looking forward to a fresh challenge, having struggled to make the first team for the ACL champions last year.

While his best days may be behind him, he will aim to prove that he still has much to offer as the Kirins embark on a continental adventure, while aiming to retain their domestic title.

Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK

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