SYDNEY (Reuters) - South Korea may have ended up with losers medals but were still champions after the part they played in an enthralling Asian Cup final against Australia on Saturday, their proud coach Uli Stielike said.
The twice champions came up just short of breaking their 55-year hoodoo at the Asian Cup when they lost 2-1 to a James Troisi goal in extra time at Stadium Australia.
“We don’t have the Cup but we the way we played today we are also champions of a lot of hearts,” the German told reporters.
”The messages I am receiving, everybody is giving a big hand to the players. Everyone is recognising that the game could have gone either way.
“I think the best result from such a match would have been a draw and we take the Cup for two years each, but I know it can’t be like this and we have to accept that.”
South Korea showed great mental strength by equalising in stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes through impressive attacking midfielder Son Heung-min to stay in the contest.
Stielike, who took over after South Korea crashed out of last year’s World Cup in Brazil at the group stage, has spent much of the tournament questioning the mentality of his largely inexperienced side.
“For me it was by far today their best game in regard to body language. You play in front of 76,000 people. Some players had never played in this atmosphere before,” he said.
”There was no difference between the home team and the visitors. Very aggressive, very good spirit.
“We know we have technical things to work on but the mentality and the discipline of this team is excellent.”
Charged with getting the South Koreans to a ninth successive World Cup finals in Russia in 2018, the 60-year-old former West Germany sweeper said he thought the squad were moving very much in the right direction.
“I‘m very satisfied with our aggressiveness and defensive work but sometimes we are a little bit naive,” he said.
”This is a little bit what is missing in this team, but this will come step-by-step. We need a little bit more time.
“(But) I think we are on the right path. We are second but we are second as a whole squad.”
The German’s idiosyncratic news conferences have caused much amusement in Australia over the last month and he departed with another couple of flourishes.
First, he read out a statement in Korean -- “Korea, you can be proud of your boys!” -- before adding one final word as he left the press conference stage.
“There is only one deception,” he shouted. “I’ve been here four weeks and I haven’t seen a single kangaroo.”
Editing by Ed Osmond