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Beleaguered S. Korea football coach Klinsmann looking to end drought vs. Saudi Arabia

By Yonhap

Published : Sept. 11, 2023 - 09:39

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Jurgen Klinsmann (left), head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, smiles during a training session at Brentford FC Training Ground in Osterley, England, on Sunday. (Yonhap) Jurgen Klinsmann (left), head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, smiles during a training session at Brentford FC Training Ground in Osterley, England, on Sunday. (Yonhap)

Besieged by criticism over his questionable commitment to the job and lack of tactical expertise, Jurgen Klinsmann will try to grab his first win as head coach of the South Korean men's national football team this week in England.

South Korea, ranked 28th, will take on world No. 54 Saudi Arabia at St. James' Park in Newcastle at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (local time), or 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

In five matches under Klinsmann, South Korea have had three draws and two losses. This is the longest winless run by a foreign-born head coach at the start of a South Korea stint. In those five matches, South Korea have netted only four goals and conceded six.

The latest disappointment came Thursday in Cardiff, where South Korea played the home team Wales to a goalless draw. The result flattered South Korea, who managed just one shot on target while Wales struck the goal post once and had a couple of other close calls around the South Korean net.

After the listless match, Klinsmann claimed his team remained a work in progress, and he was still in the process of learning about South Korean players and identifying key pieces for the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup, which kicks off in January next year.

Klinsmann's seeming lack of urgency in light of poor performances hasn't sat well with South Korean fans, many of whom have already begun calling for the German tactician's head.

Klinsmann has also been panned for his inability to get the most out of a talented group of players on hand. He had already faced similar question marks in his previous coaching stops, and he has done very little to change that narrative so far in his South Korea tenure.

Prior to the current European trip, Klinsmann faced criticism for spending more time in his U.S. home than in South Korea, thus reneging on his earlier pledge that he would live here to integrate himself in the new culture. His extracurricular activities while overseas, including being a guest analyst for ESPN, have also irked Klinsmann's critics, who wondered aloud why he was spending more time commenting on international players than scouting South Korean league players.

A victory may not entirely silence those detractors, but it would at least buy Klinsmann some time with more friendlies coming up in October, followed by 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in November and the Asian Cup in January.

A loss, however, would put Klinsmann closer to the chopping block, if he isn't there already.

South Korea will be running into an equally desperate Saudi Arabia, who have dropped their past five matches by a combined score of 11-4. They fell to Costa Rica 3-1 on Friday in Newcastle in the debut of their new coach, Roberto Mancini, who led Italy to the Euro 2020 title.

Before the recent skid, though, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a monumental 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina during the group stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The Saudis were the only team to beat Argentina in that tournament. (Yonhap)