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Klinsmann expects 'very difficult game' vs. Bahrain to start group stage

By Yonhap

Published : Jan. 14, 2024 - 21:19

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South Korea head coach Jurgen Klinsmann speaks at a press conference ahead of a Group E match against Bahrain at the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup at the Main Media Centre in Doha on Jan. 14, 2024. (Yonhap) South Korea head coach Jurgen Klinsmann speaks at a press conference ahead of a Group E match against Bahrain at the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup at the Main Media Centre in Doha on Jan. 14, 2024. (Yonhap)

South Korea may be the heavy favorites against Bahrain when the two countries clash to start Group E action at the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup in Qatar on Monday, but that is not how South Korea coach Jurgen Klinsmann sees the matchup.

"Based on information we've collected, we'll have a very difficult game tomorrow," Klinsmann said at his prematch press conference in Doha on Sunday. The match between world No. 23 South Korea and No. 86 Bahrain kicks off at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha, at 2:30 p.m. Monday local time, or 8:30 p.m. Monday in Seoul time.

"We do not underestimate the Bahrain team, not even one second," the coach went on. We have a lot of respect for them. We will have to bring our best to win this game. This is how we will approach every single game in this tournament."

South Korea will try to win their first Asian Cup title since 1960. The length of the drought is baffling, considering South Korea's standing in Asian football and their talent level over the past several decades.

This year's Asian Cup team, in particular, is widely regarded as the most talented South Korean squad ever. Tottenham Hotspur captain Son Heung-min will also wear the armband for the Taegeuk Warriors, and he's joined by other Europe-based stalwarts, such as Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich, Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain and Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Klinsmann, who was named South Korea's coach last February, said he believes his team has "the qualities to win the tournament."

"I think we have a very strong team. The goal is to be at the very end of this tournament and play in the final," he said. "But it will be a marathon. Every game will be a nail-biter. There will be drama. This is what a tournament is about; tournaments are about drama. Hopefully, we go all the way through but it will be one step at a time."

Hwang, attending the press conference with Klinsmann despite being questionable for Monday due to a hip injury, said he would hate to lose any match in Qatar.

"I think we as a team are very well prepared, and individually, the players are also ready," Hwang said. "I'd love to win every match and not lose once. If we keep doing that, we'd obviously get the result we want at the end."

Hwang said he is aware of fans' heightened expectations of this year's squad, but he and his teammates are embracing the pressure.

"Whether it's the players in Europe or in South Korea, we've all played a lot of matches in our respective seasons. But when we get together for the national team, we don't talk about how tired we are. It's a joy for us to be with the national team," Hwang said. "We mostly talk about what we have to do to play better and create some positive energy. That's been a great part of the buildup to this tournament. Now that the tournament is about to begin for us, we want to go out there and post good results."

Bahrain will likely take a defensive posture against South Korea and Klinsmann said his team will have to adjust accordingly.

"If Bahrain play more defensive style, we have to adjust to what we face, respect that, and find solutions. The last few games, we faced some defensive-minded teams and we did quite well," he said. "Even if you play defensive-minded teams, they can always hurt you with counter breaks and set pieces. We have to be very alert. Adjustments to the style of the other team will always be the topic in this tournament.