South Korea men’s football head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Thursday he remained upbeat about his team’s overall performance at the top Asian tournament, despite the country’s disappointing exit from the competition in Qatar earlier in the week.
Klinsmann and 13 players returned to South Korea on Thursday night, two days after South Korea lost to Jordan 2-0 in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. Other members of the national team, most of them based in Europe, rejoined their clubs from Qatar on Wednesday.
While South Korea went a step further this time than at the 2019 Asian Cup, many South Korean fans were still angry at the way their team bowed out of the tournament. South Korea did not register a shot on goal against Jordan, despite boasting former Premier League Golden Boot winner in Tottenham Hotspur talisman Son Heung-min, among other stars for European clubs.
Klinsmann, who heard a smattering of boos at Incheon International Airport, conceded that not generating chanc
es against Jordan was “definitely the disappointing part.” But he was otherwise pleased with the way his team competed at the tournament.
“We badly wanted to win the Asian Cup, and we were on a good track until we hit Jordan in this game, and Jordan in this game was the better team and they deserved to win,” Klinsmann told reporters. “But overall, I think we played a very good tournament. Yes, we were disappointed after the game, which is normal, but then there’s a lot of positives to take out of the tournament for every player, for every coach. And therefore, I’m looking forward to restart (of) our World Cup qualifying (in March).”
South Korea were trying to win their first Asain Cup title since 1960. Reaching the semifinals was the closest the country came to ending that drought since they lost to Australia in the final in 2015. Klinsmann said his team deserved credit for going that deep into the tournament played in a hostile environment.
“I still think it was a successful tournament, going into the fin
al four,” he said. “We ended up as the best four teams in a tournament, which is a very, very difficult tournament because it’s played in the Middle East and historically for teams from East Asia. It’s very, very difficult to play their Arabic nations because it’s home games for them.”
Klinsmann, who was appointed in February 2023, reiterated his stance that he will not step down from the South Korea post, despite mounting pressure in light of the Jordan loss. In the postmatch press conference Tuesday, Klinsmann was also asked if he’d planned to resign to take the fall, but said then he only planned to go back to the drawing board and analyze South Korea’s Asian Cup performance to prepare for the World Cup qualifying campaign.
When asked if he’d changed his mind and planned to quit, Klinsmann smiled and responded, “Nice question.”
“I very, very much enjoy coaching this team,” he added. “When you get out of the tournament, it’s always very emotional. Emotions were very positive when we beat Saudi Arabia and
Australia (early in the knockout stage). And then when we lose the game against Jordan, it goes into the other extreme. But that’s football.”
Klinsmann said he’d met with Chung Mong-gyu, president of the Korea Football Association, twice after the Asian Cup. The coach said the two didn’t discuss his immediate future with the team, although Chung had been hearing calls to sack Klinsmann. Instead, they reviewed and analyzed South Korea’s performance together.
“Fans will say it was the fault of the coach. It’s normal. You live with the ups and downs. You live with criticism of media and fans. That’s okay,” Klinsmann said. “Overall, the most important part is you see the team is getting in the right direction. And absolutely, this team is going in the right direction.”
Klinsmann pointed to the way he has integrated younger players into the program as “a very, very positive development of the team” as they gear up for the next FIFA World Cup in two years.
The coach said he very much wants to keep Son, a longti
me skipper, in the fold for the foreseeable future. The 31-year-old said after the Jordan match that he wasn’t sure if Klinsmann would select him for future iterations of the national team, which some fans interpreted as Son’s intention to retire from international play.
Klinsmann chalked it up to the case of emotions running high for Son after the crushing loss.
“There is no doubt that Sonny comes back in March,” Klinsmann said. “There’s no doubt that Sonny is our captain because he’s absolutely fantastic. He’s one of the best strikers in the world, and the next goal that he can have with us is the World Cup in America.”
Klinsmann said he is scheduled to fly back home to the United States next week and then travel to Europe to see national team mainstays playing there, including Son, Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain and Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich.
Klinsmann has been defiant in the face of criticism that he spends too much time overseas and not enough in South Korea, claiming that his job is internati
onal. He stuck to the same tune Thursday.
“There’s a lot of traveling involved in my job. As I always said, you have to get used to that,” he said. “I know you criticize it every time you can, but this is the life of a national team coach. The life of a club team coach is a different one, and I said that a few times, and if you ask me next time, I will say it again with all respect.”
Source: Yonhap News Agency