South Korea head coach Uli Stielike has labelled Tuesday's Group A World Cup qualifier against Syria at the Seoul World Cup Stadium a "must-win" match after his side succumbed to a 1-0 loss in China last week.
The defeat left second-placed South Korea four points behind leaders Iran, while fourth-placed Syria beat Uzbekistan last week to move within two points of an automatic qualification spot with four games remaining.
"I think Syria are the most effective team in this final round. We're only two points ahead of Syria, but this is a must-win match and they are the team that we must beat," Steilike told reporters on Monday.
"No one would have expected that Syria would collect that many points after six matches. It's surprising, but Syria's current position shows they are not an easy team."
The top two teams will qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while the third-placed team must go through playoff rounds to secure a spot in next year's showpiece event.
The previous meeting between the two sides in September ended in a goalless draw but South Korea captain Ki Sung-yueng is confident that his side can return to winning ways.
"We're not in a good situation, but this isn't the worst we've been in, either," Ki said. "I think we have a good chance of rebounding by winning the match against Syria.
"If we keep making the same mistakes, it will be a real problem. But I think we can solve that problem and play a better game."
With Choi Kang-hee and Hong Myung-bo resigning after poor qualification campaigns, South Korea have a history of cutting ties with head coaches after the World Cup qualifiers.
Despite qualification for the 2018 World Cup being far from guaranteed, the Korean FA chief Chung Mong-gyu voiced his support for Stielike, who was hired in 2014, following the loss to China.
(Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Gareth Jones)