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Jurgen Klinsmann, the head coach of South Korea's national football team, speaks at an official press conference at the Main Media Center in Doha, Qatar, Monday (local time). Yonhap

Jurgen Klinsmann, the beleaguered head coach of the underperforming South Korean national team at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar, said Monday his faith in his squad has not wavered heading into the knockout showdown against Saudi Arabia.”I believe in my team. I believe in what we’re doing,” Klinsmann said at his prematch press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha on Monday, the eve of South Korea’s round of 16 match against 56th-ranked Saudi Arabia. The match will begin at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, just west of Doha, at 7 p.m. Tuesday local time, or 1 a.m. Wednesday in Seoul.”I respect Saudi Arabia a lot as everyone does and we will give it a fight,” the coach added. “I think we have very good players. I think we can do well. I’m sure it’s going to be an exciting game, great atmosphere, packed stadium. That’s all you want in football. We’re looking forward to it.”Klinsmann has been in the hot seat for his inability to get the most out of what many observers feel is the most talented South Korean squad on paper. The Taegeuk Warriors, the third-highest ranked team in the AFC at No. 23, have fallen well short of pre-tournament hype as a title contender.South Korea opened the tournament with a 3-1 win over Bahrain, with midfielder Lee Kang-in scoring twice in the second half after they blew a 1-0 lead.

Then came a 2-2 draw against 87th-ranked Jordan, with the flustered South Korea salvaging their one point thanks to a late Jordan own goal.South Korea squandered a 1-0 and then a 3-2 lead against No. 130 Malaysia, who equalized during second-half stoppage time for a dramatic 3-3 draw. South Korea would have won Group E with a win over Malaysia but instead dropped to second place behind Bahrain, setting up a date with Saudi Arabia in the process.South Korea, despite employing Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae, widely considered one of the top center backs in Europe today, conceded six goals in the group stage. That tied them with Indonesia for the most goals allowed by a team bound for the knockout stage.If South Korea had won Group E, they would have played their longtime rival Japan, the Group D runner-up and the top-ranked AFC side at No. 17, in the round of 16. The unexpected draw against Malaysia gave conspiracy theorists some juicy fodder, as they accused South Korea of intentionally settling for second place in their group in order to avoid Japan in the first knockout match. The image of Klinsmann smiling after Malaysia’s last-gasp equalizer went viral on social media and only added fuel to the fire.Asked about the ill-timed smile Monday, Klinsmann said it was a wry kind of grin.

“We made a mistake in the very last minute of stoppage time against Malaysia and got punished for it. My smile was because I saw it coming,” he said, also denying that South Korea sought to avoid Japan. “It was a game where we had 80 percent possession, 20 corner kicks, and many, many chances and did not end up making another goal. And usually in football, this is what happens in the very last minute. You get punished if you don’t finish off the game.”Klinsmann frequently said he had “a lot of respect” for Saudi Arabia but that didn’t mean South Korea would shy away from their foes.”In all honesty, I don’t fear anybody. No fear but a lot of respect for every opponent we play,” Klinsmann said. “The players are hungry. I’m hungry as a coach and we want to do well. We have our strengths. We have our spirit that we have to believe to move on. We have to believe that we can beat Saudi Arabia but it will be a lot of work. It will be a nail-biter. You cannot predict what will be next but all we know is that we trained hard over the last weeks and that we have a goal in mind.”That goal is to end South Korea’s 64-year title drought at the top AFC event. And Klinsmann has remained relentlessly positive amid all the criticism. Over the weekend, he confidently told South Korean media in Qatar to extend their hotel stay through the final, scheduled for Feb. 10, because South Korea will get that deep into the tournament.

“I think a coach has to be positive. A coach has to believe in his team and make it happen,” the coach said. He then added with a smile, “If, for whatever reason, when the other team is better or beat you or whatever happens, then you can still go back to the hotel and cancel the hotel.”Accompanying Klinsmann to the presser, center back Kim Young-gwon said South Korea’s defense will only get better from here on.”We did have some problems on the backline but I think it’s actually fortunate that we conceded those goals in the group stage,” Kim said. “It’d be even worse if we gave up that many goals in the knockout phase. We all understand we can’t afford to concede multiple goals tomorrow.”Kim is one of several players returning from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, during which South Korea upset Portugal 2-1 in their final group match to punch a ticket to the last 16. That match was played at Education City Stadium, the venue for Tuesday’s clash against Saudi Arabia, and Kim scored the equalizer in that dramatic win.Kim tried to downplay the significance of the return, saying, “The World Cup and the Asian Cup are different competitions, and we have a lot of new faces and 슬롯게이밍 even a new coach.””No matter where we play, we’ll do our best to help the team win,” Kim added

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