Klinsmann stakes it all on Asian Cup glory with South Korea

It’s all or bust at the Asian Cup for Jurgen Klinsmann, who has declared that anything but a first title since 1960 for South Korea will be a failure.

It is a bold target for a coach who did not win any of his first five games in charge and has never hit the same giddy heights he scaled as a player.

South Korean fans were sceptical about the legendary German forward’s appointment 11 months ago given his coaching record and he quickly came under fire following a poor start.

The 59-year-old former coach of the United States also faced criticism from media and fans who said he spends more time at home in California than he does in South Korea.

Results have improved but Asian Cup failure over the next month in Qatar could spell the end of a patchy coaching career which had fallen off the map until he took the South Korea job.

His previous post was a 10-week stint at Hertha Berlin in 2019-2020.

Klinsmann nevertheless believes it is “right” that South Korean fans expect a team led by Son Heung-min to win the Asian Cup for the first time in more than 60 years.

“We have to aim for the highest goal, and if we don’t reach it, then it’s the fault of the coach — no problem,” he said.

Klinsmann has one of the strongest squads in the tournament, led once again by Tottenham Hotspur striker and skipper Son.

Son has long been South Korea’s focal point but several of his team-mates have come into form with their clubs at just the right time.

Fellow attacker Hwang Hee-chan has impressed for Wolves this season, scoring 10 goals in 20 Premier League matches.

Attacking midfielder Lee Kang-in, who was out of favour under previous South Korean boss Paulo Bento, has played his way into the Paris Saint-Germain side and the 22-year-old could be one of the breakout stars of the Asian Cup.

At the back, central defender Kim Min-jae is a regular for Bayern Munich after winning the Italian title with Napoli.

– Dismal record –

South Korea reached the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup under Bento, before being beaten 4-1 by Brazil, but his side was functional rather than thrilling.

Klinsmann is a more attack-minded coach and has encouraged the younger players to “be more courageous, to express themselves and to grow faster”.

“I think the best example is Kang-in,” he said of the PSG player.

“With Kang-in now, compared to six months ago, you have a completely different rhythm of the game with his qualities.”

South Korea have won their last six games, scoring 20 goals with none conceded.

But Klinsmann is still under fire from critics who accuse him of spending too much time abroad and ignoring the domestic K League.

Klinsmann argues that he is “an international coach”, and has resisted calls for him to change his approach.

South Korea’s dismal Asian Cup record is a mystery for a team that has appeared at the last 10 World Cups.

They lost to hosts Australia in the 2015 final and were bundled out by Qatar in the quarter-finals four years later.

They start their title charge in Qatar against Bahrain on Monday. Malaysia and Jordan are also in a group they should top with ease.

Whoever they play after that, Klinsmann’s message to his players will be the same — bring home the Asian Cup.

“I believe in this Korean team that they can make it happen because we have so much quality with so many good players doing really well,” he said.

“We are capable of winning this tournament. It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of special moments, but it’s absolutely doable.”



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