SEOUL (Reuters) - Uli Stielike will be given more time to get South Korea’s stuttering 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track after the Korea Football Association (KFA) said on Monday it was sticking by the under-fire German coach.
Stielike guided the South Koreans to the 2015 Asian Cup final just five months after taking charge but a string of poor performances in the final round of Asian qualifying have left their 2018 hopes in doubt.
Lee Yong-soo, head of the KFA’s Technical Committee, said that while the qualifying campaign had gone through some rough patches they still had confidence Stielike would get them through to the 2018 finals.
“We’ve decided to trust Stielike once more,” Yonhap News quoted Lee as saying at a news conference. “The national team had hard times in the past, but they’ve always overcome the difficulties and advanced to the World Cup in the end.
“I don’t think it’s right to judge Stielike by one or two matches,” Lee added. “We decided to trust Stielike based on all he has done so far.”
The Koreans, who are bidding to appear at a ninth consecutive World Cup finals, are second in Group A with three games remaining, trailing group leaders Iran by four points and just a point ahead of Uzbekistan in third.
The top two teams gain automatic berths at the World Cup next year while the third-placed team goes into a playoff.
Korea have a perfect home record in the group with one-goal wins over China, Qatar, Uzbekistan and Syria.
However, away from home it is a different story, with defeats to China and Iran and a draw with the Syrians (held in Malaysia for security reasons), all without scoring a single goal.
Last month’s 1-0 defeat in China sparked an outpouring of anger at the national team, with most of the criticism directed at Stielike.
The German apologised to South Korea fans for the defeat and promised improvements from his side in their next game but a nervy 1-0 victory in Seoul over Syria, ranked 95th in the world, prompted calls for him to be fired.
The Koreans travel to Doha to face Qatar in June before hosting Iran at the end of August. They then face a potentially make-or-break trip to Tashkent to face Uzbekistan in the final group fixture in September.
Writing by Peter Ruthford; Editing by John O'Brien