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Korea suffers devastating loss to Qatar

Stielike’s position as head coach is now shakier than ever
June 15,2017
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The Korean national football team reacts after allowing a goal to Qatar during the final qualification match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
The Korean national football team’s loss against China in March was disappointing, as it was the first time in seven years it lost against China, but now they’ve set another record, losing to Qatar 3-2 for the first time in 33 years during its final qualification match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Tuesday at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.

Korea got off to a slow start by allowing the lead to Qatar in the 25th minute. Things got worse when Son Heung-min, the team’s key player, fractured his right forearm after fighting for the ball in the 30th. Korea then allowed another goal in the 51st.

“We are the players representing the country,” Lee Keun-ho said after the match. “We need to be more responsible and strengthen our mental game.”

Ki Sung-yueng and Hwang Hee-chan each scored a goal in the 62nd and 67th, but that wasn’t enough to win against the bottom ranked team in Group A, as Qatar, ranked 88th in FIFA World Ranking, scored an additional goal in the 75th. Korea has now lost three of the group qualification matches and remains winless in away games.

“We lacked in everything,” Ki said after the match. “Because we have two more matches remaining in the final qualification, it’s not over yet. But we’ll have to win the two games.”

Uli Stielike, head coach of the Korean national football team, asked for fans’ trust before the match, but failed to deliver. The game against Qatar highlighted the reality of the collapsing state of Korean football. Since September 2014, when Stielike was appointed the national team’s head coach, Korea has struggled to win against teams ranked outside the top 100 in the FIFA World Ranking.

Now, football fans have raised their voice once again that Stielike should have stepped down long ago. After losing to China and barely winning against Syria, fans strongly asked for a new coach, but at the time, the Korea Football Association declined.

Aside from the team’s poor performance, fans criticized Stielike’s attitude. In every crucial situation the Korean national football team faced, Stielike gave a list of excuses. When Korea lost to Iran in September, he blamed the players by saying, “we lost because we didn’t have a player like Sebastian Soria.”

“I can’t decide my position,” Stielike said during the press conference after the match. “It’s not in my hands. I’ll find out once I get back to Korea.”

With that, the KFA will have a meeting with its technical committee at National Training Center in Paju today. And many are already discussing the list of candidates for the next head coach of the Korean national football team.

But despite the loss, Korea maintains its second-place standing, as Iran defeated Uzbekistan earlier on Tuesday. But they missed their opportunity to extend their gap over Uzbekistan, barely maintaining the position with a one-point lead.

Of a total of four away games played throughout the group matches, Korea has now worsened their record at one tie and three losses. The only positive Korea had from the match against Qatar was that Korea got out of playing scoreless matches in away games.

Now, their advancement to the 2018 FIFA World Cup all depends on the next two matches, scheduled to be played in August and September. Since Iran is the leader in the group with six wins and two ties, it’ll be a tough match for Korea. That said, it is very likely Korea’s advancement to the World Cup for the ninth consecutive time will be determined based on their last match against Uzbekistan in September.

If Korea finishes third in the group, they will have to go through playoffs, as two of the third-ranked teams in each group will be given berths to the World Cup.

BY PIH JOO-YOUNG, PARK RIN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]