Klinsmann seeks ‘hunger, chemistry’ from S. Korea in bid to end Asian Cup drought

With the top men's football tournament in Asia under 100 days away, South Korea head coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he has "a pretty good idea" of what his roster will look like. And it won't be just technical skills that will help South Korea end their 63-year drought at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup when it kicks off in January in Qatar.

"For us as coaches, going on three months prior to the tournament, it's important we start finding certain things, not just the technical side. We need to create a group of characters and individuals that form a very hungry team to win the Asian Cup," Klinsmann said in a YouTube press conference with South Korean media Monday, with a few select writers attending in person.

"We also need to build chemistry, so that players talk to each other and develop drive and hunger so that we can go into Qatar and we can make it happen," Klinsmann added. "That's why it's important now to become more consistent. Leaders of this team like (captain Son Heung-min), they form this group to get them focused and develop that chemistry and hunger to win it."

Klinsmann met with the media virtually four days before South Korea host Tunisia in a friendly match in Seoul. They will then play Vietnam on Oct. 17 in Suwon, a city lying just south of the capital.

Klinsmann has had six matches under his belt with the Taegeuk Warriors since being appointed in late February. As the Asian Cup approaches, Klinsmann, feeling more comfortable around his players, said he wants to instill more self-belief in them.

"I can go more into conversations with players and get them motivated and confident going into the Asian Cup," he said. "I saw this team at the World Cup. This team can win the Asian Cup. That's my belief. It's about telling the team to constantly believe it. I love this process to learn, and I'll be very, very hungry when we go to Qatar."

The German-born coach said he has figured out who will most likely start and who will be coming in from the bench during the Asian Cup, although he also insisted, "The door is always open for young and new players."

That group may include a few members from South Korea's under24 team, fresh off an Asian Games gold medal in Hangzhou, China, on Saturday. Four players from that squad have been called up for the friendlies, including the Asian Games scoring champion, Jeong Woo-yeong of VfB Stuttgart, and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in.

"A huge compliment to Woo-yeong. He was fantastic," Klinsmann said. "He had a tough year in Freiburg last year. He was not part of the plans. This move to Stuttgart lightens him up again. He's playing well. He smiles again. I want him to come here and have a big smile."

Klinsmann added he plans to give Lee a ton of action because he is "hungry for minutes."

"On one side, it's wonderful that we have a player with PSG. On the other side, his own personal situation at PSG is not the strongest because he's a young player trying to find minutes to play," said Klinsmann, adding he'd been in touch with PSG's coach, Luis Enrique. "It's a huge learning curve for him in the next few years. When he comes to us, we want to help him grow. We give him as many minutes as possible on the field and have him understand what it will take now to become a top, top player in Europe."

Klinsmann will also lean heavily on his old reliables from Europe, such as Son from Tottenham Hotspur and Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich.

Though they may be fatigued from their club commitments by the time they arrive in South Korea, with jetlag also playing a factor, Klinsmann said he won't cut down on their minutes any time soon.

"Health of the players is the priority No. 1, absolutely," Klinsamnn said. "I am sure Min-jae and Sonny don't want to play less minutes. When they come, I see in their eyes that they want to play. Being fatigued, that's normal. That's part of being a national team player. They are used to that. We give them a bit less load in the first couple of days and then they go play."

Klinsmann also defended the persistent criticism surrounding his work habits as the national team boss. He has been under fire for spending more time overseas than in South Korea, the big knock against him being that he doesn't watch enough domestic football. Klinsmann, though, argued that the nature of his work is "international, not domestic."

"I am coaching a national team and so I have to look around internationally to see what happens. I need to know what goes on internationally because that's my competition," he said. "My job is to be constantly on the road. It's my life. If you want to win a tournament on an international surface, you have to think internationally. For me, if I want to win the Asian Cup, I need to know everything about my opponents. Many of them play in Europe."

He also said criticism from the Korean public and media doesn't bother him.

"Maybe for some Korean media, it's different to previous coaches. If somebody criticizes it, that's okay. But that's how I do my work. I know I do my work really well," Klinsmann said. "At the end of the day, when you do that type of work, you have to deliver in tournaments. Everything on my end is focused toward the Asian Cup.

"My office is everywhere. That's why it's OK if you always want to know where I am. I am more than happy to tell you where I am," Klinsmann added. "Hopefully, after a very successful Asian Cup, I need to go even more international as we prepare this team for the World Cup in 2026."

Japan may stand in South Korea's path to the top of the Asian Cup and consecutive 3-0 defeats to the regional rivals over the past two years have caused some handwringing in the South Korean fan base.

Klinsmann said he'd like to play Japan more often so that South Korea can eventually overcome their fears of the big opponent.

"My wish would be to play Japan two, three times a year," he said. "When you have a big rival like Japan, a lot is mental. They have very good quality players but so do we. We have a good team. To build the belief in beating your main rival and teams that seem to be bigger than you... you have to play them as often as you can.

"Unfortunately, there was no chance to play Japan prior to the Asian Cup. Maybe after the Asian Cup, we'll have a chance to play one or two friendly games a year with Japan, just to build the belief that we are eye to eye, and we can beat them," Klinsmann continued. "In order to grow as a team and grow the belief, you have to play these games, with the risk that you lose a few games. But then you get a lesson, you learn, and you move on. Hopefully, we get that opportunity in the Asian Cup, hopefully in the final. That's what we're going to work on. I'd love it. But we give them respect."

Source: Yonhap News Agency