SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea coach Uli Stielike does not expect the team to be affected by a late switch to their travel plans for next week’s World Cup qualifier in Qatar after the Arab world’s biggest powers cut ties with the tiny Gulf state on Monday.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have severed diplomatic relations and cut transport links with Qatar, which is set to stage the World Cup in 2022, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
Korea are currently in the UAE for a warm-up match against Iraq later on Wednesday. They had been scheduled to take the one-hour hop to Doha on Saturday but with flights from Dubai to the Qatari capital suspended they have had to make other arrangements.
The travelling party will now have to get a connecting flight in Kuwait, Yonhap News reported on Wednesday, which will add several hours to their travel time.
However, Stielike did not see the travel hiccup having any negative impact on his side, who must win on June 12 to stay in the driver’s seat for one of Group A’s two automatic berths at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Korea trail group leaders Iran by four points and lead Uzbekistan by just one, and must play both teams in their final two matches after the Qatar fixture.
“It’s going to affect us a little bit, but I expect there’s not going to be a major problem in our schedule,” he said.
The German said the stint in the UAE would help prepare his players for the conditions in Qatar and planned to give match time to some of those who had struggled for minutes at their club sides.
Crystal Palace wide man Lee Chung-yong and Borussia Dortmund defender Park Joo-ho are likely to see action after playing bit-roles at their clubs last season.
“We need to adjust to the weather and environment here and play a good game,” Stielike said.
“Players like Lee Chung-yong haven’t played many games, so I will watch how they perform,” he added. “We will be able to test which combination and which players will work the best for the World Cup qualifier against Qatar.”
Asian Football Confederation general secretary Windsor John told Reuters on Tuesday that the body was monitoring the diplomatic crisis and hoping to minimise the impact on international competitions.
Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by