January 31 – Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini has apologised for disappearing down the tunnel before his team’s Asian Cup fate was sealed in Tuesday’s 4-2 penalty shoot-out defeat to South Korea in the last 16.
The Italian had seen his team dramatically relinquish a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute of stoppage time at Education City Stadium, to force extra time, and then miss two spot kicks in the shootout.
Reacting to Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s saved effort, which left South Korea with only one penalty to progress, Mancini walked back to the dressing room at Education City Stadium.
The Italian therefore missed Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan securing Korea’s place in the quarter-finals – an action that quickly led to much criticism for the coach’s behaviour.
“I apologise, I thought it was finished,” Mancini told reporters. “I didn’t want to disrespect anyone. I want to say thank you to all my players for what they did. They are improving a lot.”
However Mancini, appointed in August, categorically refused to apologise for Saudi Arabia’s elimination.
“I will not apologise. We had a plan and it didn’t work,” he said with a piercing stare. “I want to thank my players for what they did. We spent a lot of energy, needed fresh players in that moment. We will continue to improve, but if we want to win against these types of teams we need to work even more.”
The Italian was peppered with loaded questions, the pinnacle of which was summarised by a member of the Saudi media asking if Mancini planned to step down from his role of head coach.
“What kind of question is that?” he responded. “In football you can lose or you can win. My players played well and we lost in a shootout. That’s it.”
Losing composure and enthusiasm with each passing question, Mancini closed the conference with a stab at the officiating, which was faultless on the night.
“I am very happy with my team but i am very sad for the officiating. The game was given 10 minutes of extra time in the second half? From where?”
Meanwhile, seeking to end a 64-year wait for the trophy, South Korea will meet Australia in the last eight on Friday. Yet the two-time champions have only a couple of days to recover, unlike their opponents who contested their last-16 encounter with Indonesia on Sunday.
“That’s the reason why I badly wanted to win our group,” South Korea manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Some people said I was happy not to top the group and avoid Japan. We didn’t win the group and we’ve paid the price.
“But this win has given this team more spirit. I enjoy coaching this group and they badly want to do well for their country. We wanted to win before penalties; we didn’t count on a shoot-out.
“We’re looking forward to Australia. This win tonight gives us a lot of optimism, belief and energy – which we will need to beat Australia.”
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