Winless after five matches as head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, Jurgen Klinsmann says he is still pleased with the team's progress on his watch as the program undergoes a generation change.
Following a goalless draw against Wales in Cardiff on Thursday, Klinsmann attributed a run of uninspiring matches to a transition and a growing process in South Korean football. He also kept taking the long view toward the 2024 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup, which kicks off in Qatar in January, and reiterated his oft-stated goal of winning the competition.
"The team is in the process of developing toward Qatar. These are the games where we test our players to see how far they are in the development and how we can put pieces together towards Qatar," Klinsmann said at his postmatch press conference at Cardiff City Stadium in the Welsh capital. "It's a normal process between two World Cups that there's a type of a turnover into the next generation of players."
The Taegeuk Warriors have three draws and two losses under Klinsmann. It's the longest winless drought by a foreign-born coach to begin a stint with the South Korean senior men's team. Klinsmann has also been panned for not spending enough time in South Korea and for engaging in extracurricular activities only days before the September match window.
Before the match, Klinsmann said he considered public criticism to be part of his job as a national team coach and that it didn't bother him at all.
The toothless showing against Wales, with South Korea managing only one shot on goal, also didn't seem to bother Klinsmann, who preached the importance of preparing for the Asian Cup.
In Qatar, South Korea will try to win their first AFC crown since 1960, and Klinsmann called the tournament "the maximum competition for all the Asian nations."
"For me, what I want to see is I want to see where these players are. Obviously, you can judge them easily on their football capabilities, on tactical side and technical side. But for me, it's very important to see where they are mentally," said Klinsmann, who has called up a handful of international rookies so far in his tenure.
"How prepared are they mentally for a big tournament? Can they deal with all the pressure, all the expectations and all those different elements?" Klinsmann continued. "And I look a lot about how the team develops as a group, the spirit of the team, because at the end of the day, if you want to win or want to go far in a tournament, you need a very, very strong spirit."
To that end, Klinsmann said playing Wales was "a very good test" for South Korea because of the way the Europeans defended.
"Both sides played in a very disciplined way, so you saw very few chances on both sides," he said. "I think it's a fair tie and we had difficulties breaking through their back five. We tried to do more, but they defended really well."
South Korea completed more passes than Wales, but many of those passes were lateral or back passes that didn't help with the offensive buildup. Klinsmann said South Korea had no choice but to play that way.
"You play more vertical passes if you have space to play into the vertical area. The Welsh team played extremely tight and basically closed the passing lanes," the coach said. "You have to go around and around until you find a way to play more vertical or diagonal. So that was based on how this game developed. I wish we could have played more vertically into the strikers, but there was very little opportunity to do so."
Klinsmann admitted he could have used some creative playmaking of Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in, who was not selected for this trip after suffering a left quadriceps injury late last month. But Lee's absence meant an opportunity for the coach to test other players.
"We would have loved to have him here. He is a growing, exceptional player, and that's why he's playing for PSG," Klinsmann said. "Nonetheless, it's important for us to see other players coming in and see how they do in this group. It's a growing process, and I'm pleased overall with what the players showed, and we'll keep growing game by game." (Yonhap)