SEOUL: Jurgen Klinsmann (pix), beleaguered head coach of the underperforming South Korea at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar, said Monday his faith in his squad has not wavered heading into the knockout showdown against Saudi Arabia.
“I believe in my team. I believe in what we’re doing,“ Yonhap news agency quoted Klinsmann as saying at his prematch press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha on Monday, the eve of South Korea’s round of 16 match against 56th-ranked Saudi Arabia.
The match will begin at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha, at 7 pm Tuesday (local time).
“I respect Saudi Arabia a lot as everyone does and we will give it a fight,“ the coach said.
“I think we have very good players. I think we can do well. I’m sure it’s going to be an exciting game, great atmosphere, packed stadium. That’s all you want in football. We’re looking forward to it,“ he added.
Klinsmann has been in the hot seat for his inability to get the most out of what many observers feel is the most talented South Korean squad on paper. The Taegeuk Warriors, the third-highest ranked team in the AFC at No. 23, have fallen well short of pre-tournament hype as a title contender.
South Korea opened the tournament with a 3-1 win over Bahrain, followed by a 2-2 draw against 87th-ranked Jordan.
South Korea squandered a 1-0 and then a 3-2 lead against No. 130 Malaysia, who equalised during second-half stoppage time for a dramatic 3-3 draw.
South Korea would have won Group E with a win over Malaysia but instead dropped to second place behind Bahrain, setting up a date with Saudi Arabia in the process.
South Korea, despite employing Bayern Munich defender Kim Min Jae, widely considered one of the top centre backs in Europe today, conceded six goals in the group stage. That tied them with Indonesia for the most goals allowed by a team bound for the knockout stage.
If South Korea had won Group E, they would have played their longtime rival Japan, the Group D runner-up and the top-ranked AFC side at No. 17, in the round of 16.
The unexpected draw against Malaysia gave conspiracy theorists some juicy fodder, as they accused South Korea of intentionally settling for second place in their group in order to avoid Japan in the first knockout match.
The image of Klinsmann smiling after Malaysia’s last-gasp equaliser went viral on social media and only added fuel to the fire.
Asked about the ill-timed smile Monday, Klinsmann said it was a wry kind of grin.
“We made a mistake in the very last minute of stoppage time against Malaysia and got punished for it. My smile was because I saw it coming,“ he said, also denying that South Korea sought to avoid Japan.
“It was a game where we had 80 per cent possession, 20 corner kicks, and many, many chances and did not end up making another goal. And usually in football, this is what happens in the very last minute. You get punished if you don’t finish off the game.”
Klinsmann frequently said he had “a lot of respect” for Saudi Arabia but that didn’t mean South Korea would shy away from their foes.
That goal is to end South Korea’s 64-year title drought at the top AFC event. And Klinsmann has remained relentlessly positive amid all the criticism.
Over the weekend, he confidently told South Korean media in Qatar to extend their hotel stay through the final, scheduled for Feb 10, because South Korea will get that deep into the tournament. -Bernama