January 28 – On the eve of South Korea’s blockbuster last 16 clash with Saudi Arabia, Jurgen Klinsmann has said he doesn’t fear anybody as his ‘hungry’ side seeks to defy the critics following a disappointing group stage.
“In all honesty, I don’t fear anybody, no fear but a lot of respect for every opponent we play – Malaysia, Jordan, and Bahrain,” said Klinsmann at a pre-match news conference.
“This is important. Roberto (Mancini) is doing a fantastic job, it is a step-by-step process. It is a new adventure for him, it is a new adventure for me. Everyone is looking forward to the match with two teams with great individual players and two teams who hopefully know what they are doing.”
The two sides enjoyed the highest passing accuracy in the group stages, but the Koreans will be looking for a victory to counter the stinging criticism back home after finishing as runners-up in Group E behind Bahrain following draws with both Jordan and Malaysia, conceding six goals.
In the final group match against the Southeast Asians, South Korea threw three points away in the 105th minute, prompting a smile from Klinsmann, a barrage of disapproval and conspiracy theories that the Taegeuk Warriors had played to avoid Japan.
“I did not try to avoid Japan,” repeated Klinsmann. “We want to win our group, we made a mistake in the very last minute of stoppage time. I saw it coming, we had 85% of possession, 30 corner kicks, and many, many chances and usually in football, this is what happens in the last minute when you don’t finish the game. The players are hungry and I am hungry.”
In September, South Korea defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in a friendly at St. James’ Park. It was Mancini’s second game in charge of the Green Falcons after departing his native Italy and the manager will seek to maintain Saudi Arabia’s unbeaten record from their four previous meetings against Korea at the Asian Cup. Klinsmann and Mancini also crossed paths as players at Euro 88 when the Italian scored his team’s leveller in a 1-1 draw.
The Saudis will enjoy the backing of their fans at Education City Stadium, but that won’t faze the Koreans.
“You can see Mancini’s handwriting on his team,” said Klinsmann. “It is a very good team, but we are prepared, we have our strengths and our spirit. We have to move on and believe that we can beat Saudi Arabia. The team is very hungry, very disciplined and they want to do well. They want to represent Korea the best way possible, but in football, you have no guarantees.”
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