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Home South Korea’s Asian Cup Exit: Implications for Son Heung-Min and Jurgen Klinsmann

South Korea’s Asian Cup Exit: Implications for Son Heung-Min and Jurgen Klinsmann


Jurgen Klinsmann promised to return the Asian Cup title to Seoul for the first time in 64 years when he was named head coach of South Korea in February 2023. He requested supporters and media to assess him based on this goal.

One year later, it is time to evaluate the German team's performance. However, the outcome may not be favourable for him since South Korea suffered a 2-0 defeat over Jordan in the semi-final match on Tuesday.

The Middle Eastern team, 87th in the global rankings, is 64 places lower than South Korea. It has never emerged victorious against the Taeguk Warriors and is participating in its first significant semi-final; however, it demonstrates superiority in every area of the game.

The highly acclaimed South Korea squad had great expectations of finally achieving their long-awaited third continental championship.

Son Heung-min, a Tottenham forward, and Hwang Hee-chan, a Wolves striker, have scored at least ten goals in the Premier League this season. Additionally, Lee Kang-in from Paris St-Germain is widely recognised as one of Asia's most innovative and talented players.

Despite possessing a formidable offensive arsenal, they failed to produce a single shot on goal against an underrated but commanding Jordan team.

After the match, Klinsmann was questioned about his intention to tender his resignation.

"I have no intentions of taking any action," he said. "I intend to scrutinise this tournament, return to Korea, and undoubtedly engage in discussions with the federation regarding the strengths and weaknesses observed during the tournament."

Low-key departure after chaotic ride

One aspect of that conversation is expected to be longer than the other, given Klinsmann's team's very few good outcomes. Throughout the tournament's standard duration, they won just one match.

After South Korea's first victory of 3-1 over Bahrain, they went on to have two group-stage matches that ended in draws with Jordan and Malaysia, the latter being rated 130th in the world.

During the second round, they were on the brink of elimination but scored a goal against Saudi Arabia in the 99th minute, ultimately leading to their victory in a penalty shootout.

In the quarter-final match, they equalised against Australia in the 96th minute. Son then secured their victory with a stunning extra-time free-kick.

The phenomenon known as "zombie football," coined by the South Korean media, offered dramatic entertainment.

"The team played without any particular strategic approach," said MBC Television pundit Seo Hyung-wook. "The outcome was determined by individual performance rather than team effort, resulting in only one victory in six matches within the standard 90-minute duration."

There were apprehensions over Klinsmann's appointment, primarily due to his lack of coaching experience after departing from the United States national team in 2016, save for a brief and unsuccessful tenure at Hertha Berlin. These concerns were intensified due to his relatively little time spent in South Korea.

During his first half-year in the position, a Seoul newspaper computed that the German had only been in the nation for 67 days, which diverges from the practice of previous foreign coaches, who had all been located in the capital city.

Klinsmann held several press conferences remotely from his California residence through videoconferencing technology. He justified this approach as being in line with the responsibilities of a contemporary international coach.

"He appears to be an occasional observer, residing outside of Korea and only following a limited number of matches involving Korean players," Seo said. "He simply engages in global travel to connect with players and coaches. It appears that he lacks any intention to foster the growth of Korean football."


Son may leave international duty, fears

Klinsmann's contract extends until the conclusion of the 2026 World Cup, and South Korea's qualifying process in Asia, which started in November, will recommence next month.

In addition to the coach's future, there are questions about Captain Son.

"Fans are experiencing profound distress and dissatisfaction, and they are expressing concerns that the coach may not voluntarily step down, but rather that Son will choose to withdraw from the national team," Seo remarked.

Following the match, Son, who had difficulty making a significant contribution against Jordan, whose three goals in the tournament resulted from two penalties and a free-kick, said he could contemplate his future in international football.

Some see his words as a veiled expression of his discontent with the team's trajectory, while others interpret them as a manifestation of intense passion.

The captain of the Spurs, aged 31, was profoundly distressed following the match's conclusion, restraining his emotions while expressing remorse to the supporters.



Jordan's 'emotional' trip continues

Only one player from the Jordan side successfully reached the first Asian Cup final in Europe. Mousa Al-Tamari, who plays for Montpellier in France, has already established himself as a critical player for his club.

Attempts have been made to designate the winger as the 'Jordanian Lionel Messi' or draw comparisons to Mohamed Salah. However, the 26-year-old dismissed such assertions, just as he evaded the challenges posed by South Korea before scoring a superb second goal.

"Being in the final holds immense significance for me, and I earnestly desire that we can achieve it," said Al-Tamari. "Additionally, it is advantageous as it will generate widespread discussion about my country within France, which holds great sentimental value for me."

European clubs are already expressing interest in Yazan Al-Naimat, who scored the first goal in the semi-final. Hussein Ammouta, the coach from Morocco who leads the squad, expresses his optimism for the emergence of four or five Jordanian players participating in the premier European leagues in the following years.

That is likely to occur, particularly if they defeat Qatar or Iran in the final on Saturday. The element of surprise would be eliminated, yet the belief remains intact.

"We must vigorously protect this shirt," said Ammouta. "Our level of ambition is increasing continuously."

In contrast, South Korea's aspirations now shift towards the year 2026. However, it is still being determined if Klinsmann or Son will be present in Seoul for the qualifier against Thailand in March.

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