When Jürgen Klinsmann took over as head coach of the South Korean national soccer team in March, he vowed to play a fiery brand of attacking soccer. “If we concede three goals, we will score four,” he said at his inaugural press conference. His first two games in charge, a pair of March A matches, lived up to the hype. He played an attacking style of soccer, with “captain” Son Heung-min (Tottenham) as a free-flowing “freeroller,” to the delight of the fans. The first two matches, a 2-2 draw against Colombia and a 1-2 defeat against Uruguay, were disappointing in terms of results but satisfying in terms of content, and it was fun to watch the development of “soccer genius” Lee Kang-in (Mallorca). With former coach Paulo Bento’s Qatar 2022 World Cup squad at the forefront, Klinsmann’s A-match debut in March was a moment that raised more expectations than disappointment.
Three months later, a two-game June A-Match series came around with results needed, but the first game was a 0-1 defeat against Peru on the 16th. It was a result that would have been laughable even if there were holes in the squad, including an injury to Son Heung-min and the departure of “monster defender” Kim Min-jae (Napoli) for basic military training. The attack, which relied on the talents of Lee Kang-in, was indecisive, while the newly reconstituted backline exposed gaps early on and conceded the game-winning goal. It was a disappointing result, especially as it was Klinsmann’s first season in charge. Klinsmann’s record to date is three games without a win (one draw and two losses), and the team continues to struggle.
Now it’s time for a must-win. And against an opponent that needs to be beaten. On June 20 at 8 p.m., the South Korean national team will face El Salvador at Daejeon World Cup Stadium in their second test of the month. Klinsmann’s previous opponents – Colombia (17th), Uruguay (16th), and Peru (21st) – are all ranked higher by FIFA than Korea (27th). This time, it’s different. El Salvador is ranked 75th. They’re the least powerful team, the de facto underdog. Before coming to Korea, they played an exhibition game against Japan and were thrashed 0-6. El Salvador has recently lost five straight A matches.
If South Korea fails to get a win against this El Salvadoran side, skepticism will be directed at Klinsmann. If they lose, Klinsmann will have to wait until September for his first win in A-Match. That’s when the team will need to focus on preparations for the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar next January. South Korea will be looking to win their first Asian Cup in 63 years with their ‘golden boys’. It wouldn’t do to prolong their first win.
The players are also hungry for victory. Midfielder Hwang In-beom (Olympiacos) echoed the sentiment, saying, “A lot of players are hungry for a win right now.” 안전놀이터 “I know how much (this game) meant to the coach because he hasn’t gotten his first win yet,” said Son Heung-min, adding, “The team’s mood is not bad despite the first loss.” Klinsmann plans to use Son Heung-min, who is out with a sports hernia, as a joker in the match. “I don’t think he’ll start, but I’m thinking of subbing him in the second half,” Klinsmann said.
Letting their guard down El Salvador has never faced South Korea before. Key players to watch include captain Alex Roldan, who has been a starter for the Seattle Sounders in MLS for six years, and forward Brayan Hill, who scored eight goals in the Colombian first division last year. In sports, when you need to get results, it’s the ability to win that managers and teams need to prove. It will be interesting to see if Klinsmann’s men can prove themselves against El Salvador and taste that first sweet victory.