‘Lucky’ South Korea no Asian Cup contenders, says coach

Nam Tae-hee headed a 36th minute winner against Kuwait at a wet Canberra Stadium to book a quarter-final berth

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A “lucky” win over Kuwait failed to lift the spirits of South Korea coach Uli Stielike, who said his out-of-form and injury-hit team should no longer be considered Asian Cup title contenders.

Nam Tae-hee headed a 36th minute winner against Kuwait at a wet Canberra Stadium to book a quarter-final berth after making it two wins from two in Group A but the German saw little to celebrate in another disjointed display.

“I hate to admit it but Kuwait was the better team in many aspects,” Stielike told reporters. “They battled hard for the ball and made better passes. We were quite lucky.

“Kuwait came out far more aggressive and played an entirely different style of football. We talked plenty about our opponents and thought we were prepared, but Kuwait outplayed us.”

Stielike, who took charge in late September, cut an increasingly irritated figure on the touchline as the West Asians grew in confidence against a shaky backline as the game wore on.

His mood was already low after illness ravaged the jewels in his squad, with Bayer Leverkusen forward Son Heung-min and Koo-Ja-cheol, man of the match against Oman, two of the fever victims.

Midfielder Lee Chung-yong was diagnosed with a hairline fracture to his shin and could be sidelined for the remainder of the tournament, while fullback Kim Chang-soo has a thigh problem.

“I took 18 players with me to the stadium and only 14 of them could take the field,” Stielike bemoaned of the injury issues. “I didn’t think we’d struggle so badly. It was quite a difficult match.”

Goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon was another to pick up the bug, but Stielike was optimistic the flu victims would return soon with hosts Australia coming up on Saturday in their Group A finale.

The tantalising clash against the Socceroos, who thrashed Oman 4-0 to book a last-eight berth, will be the first heavyweight clash of the tournament.

But the former Real Madrid defender felt his side, seeking a third Asian Cup title and first since 1960, were being over-rated.

“After this match, we should no longer be considered a title contender,” Stielike said. “We’re going to have a lot of trouble if we played like we did today.

“Expectations at home are quite high, and I hope the players can overcome that pressure. They will need to work on their ball control and passes.”

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