With two scoreless draws to round out qualifying, South Korea’s advance to the World Cup was more of a stumble over the line than a confident march to Russia but it was enough for relieved coach Shin Tae-yong to claim mission accomplished.
Under fire after being held 0-0 by 10-man Iran at home last week, South Korea responded with another goalless stalemate away to Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
Even then, they had to rely on already-qualified Iran to stave off a desperate Syria in their 2-2 draw in Tehran to be assured of nabbing the second automatic berth to Russia and secure a ninth straight appearance at the World Cup finals.
The performances may do little to win over skeptics, but Shin said fans had yet to see the real South Korea. “We will prepare for the World Cup thoroughly,” he said in comments published by Yonhap on Wednesday.
“I’m a man who likes to play an attacking football. People will find out about South Korea’s true football power at the World Cup.”
An assistant to Uli Stielike, former Olympic coach Shin replaced the German for the final two matches of qualifying after he was sacked in June following a disappointing run of results.
But Shin was hardly given a vote of confidence, with the Korean federation offering a contract that would see him terminated if they failed to advance to Russia.
Little wonder he showed a pragmatic side in maintaining a defensive setup against Iran, even with a man-advantage. Prior to the match, South Korea had leaked 10 goals in eight matches, the joint highest in the group.
South Korea finished the final phase of qualifying with 11 goals, also the highest in the group, but the scoring has fizzled out this year, with the team held goalless in five of their past eight matches.
Against Uzbekistan, forward Son Heung-min, who was prolific last season for Tottenham Hotspur, hit the woodwork but was denied a goal for a seventh straight match in qualifying.
“I know many people expected to me to score goals, but I wasn’t good enough,” Son said. “I learned again that the Asian qualification isn’t easy. I can see that Asian football is getting stronger.
“Scoring goals will be our task, but at the same time, getting a clean sheet against two of the hardest opponents is a good thing. I think we have to work on getting delicate touches on attack, and if we have more communication between the players and coaching staff, we’ll do better.”