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South Korea coach promises World Cup qualifier victory in Tashkent

Seoul (AFP) – Under-fire coach Shin Tae-Yong has promised South Korea will “beef up their mental strength” and go all out for the victory against Uzbekistan Tuesday that would secure World Cup qualification for a ninth successive time.

“We’ll return home with victory no matter what,” vowed Shin ahead of the final Asian zone Group A encounter in Tashkent.

The Taeguk Warriors, with just one win in their last five qualifiers, could only manage a goalless draw at home to 10-man Iran last week to leave their qualification hopes in the balance.

Defeat in Uzbekistan could see the 2002 semi-finalists fail to make it to the global showpiece for the first time since 1982 if third-placed Syria manage to pull off a massive shock and win in Tehran Tuesday.

Unbeaten Iran have already qualified atop Group A with 21 points and are yet to concede a goal.

South Korea are second on 14 points but Syria and Uzbekistan both have 12 points.

A third-place finish would mean having to come through extended playoffs for a place in Russia next year. 

“We’re in a difficult situation, but we’ll beef up our mental strength and will win,” said Shin, whose side failed to create a single shot on target against Iran despite the visitors playing the last 40 minutes with 10 men.

“It is not that we didn’t want to score,” Shin told reporters in Tashkent. 

“The players worked hard … and while I know it is not an excuse the pitch was not in a good condition. All the coaching staff and players will do all they can to ensure we can the goals to win.”

Stand-in captain Kim Yong-Gwon sparked anger and ridicule when he complained that teammates could not hear each other against Iran because of the noise made by 63,000 screaming fans in Seoul’s World Cup stadium.

Social media users hit back that the Korea Football Association had advertised tickets for weeks and had called on fans to get behind the team by cheering.

It brought an emotional apology from Kim as the team departed for Tashkent. 

“I didn’t have any malicious intention when I said it,” said Kim. “I was only talking about the difficulties of the match. If anyone felt upset and offended by what I said I’d like to apologise.”

He and his teammates can expect more of the same Tuesday as the game in Tashkent is a 34,000 sell-out with a frenzied home support hoping to see Uzbekistan win and qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

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