Tag Archives: Soccer

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Uli Stielike Questions Korean Education Over Players’ Lack of Creativity

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Uli Stielike, the head coach of South Korea’s national soccer team, has placed doubts on the Korean education system, suggesting that his team’s bland playing style during games may stem from the country’s rigid teaching model in childhood education.

German coach Stielike, who recently won overwhelming plaudits from the Korean public for taking the national team to its first Asian Cup final in 27 years, told Spain’s daily newspaper AS that he has been taken aback by the players’ tendency to relentlessly follow directions without improvising what they’ve been taught to do on the field.

“I’ve never worked in an Asian country before,” said Stielike, who took charge of the Korean team last October with the mission of revamping the soccer landscape in the country. “In terms of team discipline, a coach couldn’t ask for more from these players. Their willingness to work hard is impressive. What they lack, due to the education of players, is greater creativity.”

Stielike has praised his team in the past for its ability to play with togetherness, highlighting its gritty efforts when defending, but he also expressed frustration over the passive attitude of the players as they are often reluctant to take risks and create innovative plays when attacking. Likewise, Korean players combined for just five runs into the opponent’s penalty box in three games at last year’s World Cup. Ivory Coast, which was also eliminated after three games, had 18 runs into the area.

The 60-year-old coach was a legendary midfielder and defender during his playing career, having played for European powerhouses, such as Borussia Monchengladbach and Real Madrid, throughout the 1970s and 80s in addition to winning the European Championship with the German national team in 1980.

In Spain, where he played for Real Madrid from 1977 to 1985, Stielike still remains as one of the most beloved foreign players to have played for the club that boasts the highest number of Spanish and European titles. He was well-known for his elegant and imaginative style of play, often acting as the playmaker for his teams.

“I want to see moments of surprise from the Korean players,” Stielike said. “But it is a little curious … I remember the first time I asked a player during practice what he thought about my instructions. He looked at me as if I were treating him like he was someone from Mars.”

For decades, schools in South Korea have produced students who score among the highest in standardized tests in comparison with students from other OECD countries. However, the so-called “K-12 education” in Korea is so ruthlessly focused on exams, most notably the annual college entrance exam, that an average schoolchild works up to 13 hours a day, while an average high school student only sleeps 5.5 hours a night because of schoolwork, according to an article by The New York Times last year.

The rigid school system has allegedly made South Korea the world’s top producer of unhappy and even suicidal teenagers. Taking a step further, Stielike said that such an extreme culture has deprived Korea’s athletes of creativity and inventiveness, which are critical elements in soccer as there’s only so much a coach can do during a 90-minute game that only has one 15-minute break at halftime, unlike basketball, which allows multiple timeouts for coaches to use during games to give instructions to the players.

For years, top tier professional soccer players in Korea have been testing their abilities in Europe, where the quality of the games is known to be higher than that of their country’s domestic K League. Korean national team captain Ki Sung-yueng is a key figure at Swansea of the English Premier League, while the country’s 22-year-old star goalscorer Son Heung-min has been playing in Germany since he was just 16.

However, the K League still serves as the “farm system” for the national team as even players who later move to Europe must develop through the youth academies of South Korea’s professional teams. Ultimately, the K League must develop more competitive players who can create plays for themselves rather than ones who simply adhere to what their coaches say, Stielike said.

“The Korean League, truthfully, is not very strong,” the coach continued. “By contrast, the fans’ expectations on their national team is immense. We have four players playing in Germany, two in England and the vast majority are playing in Asia. I doubt that the level of such leagues allow us to raise the level of the national team.”

But Stielike, who is under contract until 2018, is still confident that his experience could steer Korean soccer back on the map of world soccer.

“Provided that we qualify for the next World Cup, I’m contracted until 2018,” he said. “The aim is to pass the group stage of the World Cup [which the team failed to do in 2014].”

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Featured image via SMH

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Korean Soccer Chief to Run for FIFA Executive Committee

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Korea Football Association (KFA) president Chung Mong-gyu has declared his candidacy for a seat on the FIFA Exeuctive Committee, making him eligible to become South Korea’s second executive of the international soccer’s governing body.

Chung Mong-gyu, 53, is apparently hoping to follow in the footsteps of his cousin Chung Mong-joon, a former KFA president who served on the FIFA Executive Committee from 1994 to 2010 as the vice president.

Chung Mong-gyu, registered for his candidacy with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Tuesday, according to the KFA. The deadline for registration is reportedly Feb. 28.

The president of the AFC is automatically given a seat on the FIFA Executive Committee as FIFA’s vice president, which leaves only three additional seats for potential candidates from Asia. The candidates will be chosen during the AFC Congress in Bahrain on April 30.

Chung may be running against Kozo Tashima, Japan Football Association’s vice president, Worawi Majudi of Thailand Football Association, Malaysian football association’s Tengku Abdulla and Saud Al Mohannadi of the Qatar Football Association, according to Yonhap.

Although Chung, who also serves as Hyundai Development Co.’s chief, became the KFA’s president in 2013, he has been involved in Korean soccer for more than two decades as the owner of three different teams in the K League, South Korea’s professional soccer league. He also perviously served as the K League’s commissioner in 2011.

Since becoming the KFA president, Chung helped South Korea win its bid to host the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Last October, he expressed his interest in running for the FIFA Executive Committee seat, saying he intends to “explore more ways to enhance the level and marketability of Asian football.”

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Featured image via KFA

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UAE’s Deputy Prime Minister to Invest in Korean Soccer League

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Emirati billionaire Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, commonly known as Sheikh Mansour, is holding talks with a South Korean conglomerate in an effort to expand his investments in professional soccer to the Korean peninsula, according to South Korean daily Segye Ilbo.

Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is often referred to as the richest man in world soccer. He currently owns Manchester City, the English Premier League team, and has overseen its tremendous transformation into one of the world’s wealthiest teams since he purchased the club in 2008.

Now, Sheikh Mansour has reportedly been discussing a possibility in claiming a stake in a team included in the K League, South Korea’s professional soccer league. According to the Segye Ilbo, the 44-year-old petroleum tycoon has sent officials from Manchester City to South Korea to meet with Kang Ho-chan, the president of Nexen Tire, with the hopes of owning a majority share of a K League team.

The details of Sheikh Mansour’s possible investment is still under wraps, but Segye Ilbo‘s report hints that the ongoing discussions entail a potential partnership between Manchester City and Nexen Tire that would then purchase a share of an existing K League team.

The K League team Sheikh Mansour plans to purchase could be be his fifth venture in professional soccer. Manchester City has won two Premier League titles ever since Sheikh Mansour’s acquired ownership of the once struggling English team seven years ago. After seeing his investment pay off, the deputy prime minister of the UAE has since purchased 80 percent of the New York City FC and Australia’s Melbourne City FC, respectively, as well as 20 percent of Japan’s Yokohama Mariners.

If Sheikh Mansour’s deal to acquire a K League team comes to fruition, it’s possible that he could invest millions of dollars in a league that is currently deprived of financial resources to keep its star players. Many of South Korea’s key players on its national team have been signed by the more glamorous European clubs over the last decade. In recent years, even wealthier teams in neighboring China and oil-rich Middle Eastern teams have poached K League’s premier talents.

Case in point, only six players from South Korea’s 23-man roster at last year’s World Cup was playing in the domestic K League. One of those six players, forward Lee Keun-ho, who notched one goal and one assist in three games at the World Cup, has signed a lucrative deal with El Jaish in Qatar after the tournament.

It is believed that the motivation behind Sheikh Mansour’s strategy to tackle the Korean market stems from the substantial economic and marketing benefits Manchester City’s rival Manchester United reaped between 2005 and 2012. During those years, Manchester United won four English titles and two European championships with South Korean midfielder Park Ji-sung playing an integral part of the team’s success, scoring 27 goals in more than 200 games. Off the field, Manchester United capitalized on Park’s marketability in Korea with television rights, merchandise sales and also by allowing him to host a tour game in 2009 in Seoul.

Sheikh Mansour is the half brother of UAE’s current president, Sheikh Khalifa, and is the minister of presidential affairs and the chairman of private equity firm Abu Dhabi United Group.

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Uzbekistan’s Soccer Player Punches Korean Opponent

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Korean soccer fans couldn’t believe what they had just seen on TV. During a match between South Korea and Uzbekistan’s national under-22 teams, a player from Uzbekistan inexplicably began hurling punches at Korea’s rightback Sim Sang-min.

The incident took place at the King’s Cup, which was held in Thailand this year. The game nearly turned into a one-sided bout when Sim put in a fair challenge on Tohirjon Shamshitdinov while the Uzbekistani was on the ground trying to protect the ball. After Sim made contact, Shamshitdinov suddenly jumped up and punched the Korean player in the face three times. Obviously, Shamshitdinov was sent off with a straight red card.

In addition, another Uzbekistani player, Jaloliddin Masharipov, received a red card in the first half of the game after launching a studs-first “kung-fu kick” into the chest of South Korea’s Kang Sang-woo.

The Korean Soccer Association has since filed an official complaint to international soccer’s governing body, FIFA, to impose further sanctions on Shamshitdinov and his team. The game ended in a 1-0 win for South Korea.

Uzbekistan’s soccer association also issued an apology on the following day, saying that it has “reprimanded the national team and the coaching staff” and that “there will be repercussions” on the team for its behavior.

Since the incident, Shamshitdinov has reportedly been dropped from the national team and returned to Uzbekistan after visiting the South Korean team’s camp to apologize to Sim, according to OSEN.

You can watch the two outrageous assaults below:

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Team Korea Receives Hero’s Welcome Even After Asian Cup Final Loss

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Fans were pronouncing death for South Korean football only seven months ago when their national team returned home after failing to win a single game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup last summer.

Despite falling short of achieving their goal at the Asian Cup from this past weekend, Team Korea received a warm reception when they returned home from Sydney, Australia after finishing runner-up in the tournament, a stark contrast to last July when soccer fans hurled a barrage of yeot candy at them in response to their poor performance at last year’s World Cup. Hundreds of fans greeted Korea’s national team players at the Incheon International Airport, recognizing the team’s gritty efforts that led them to the Asian Cup final for the first time in 27 years.

South Korea’s German head coach Uli Stielike, who took charge only three months before the Asian Cup, expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome, but insisted that his team will strive to improve after its heartbreaking loss to host Australia in the final match of the Asian Cup.

“I didn’t promise that we would win the Asian Cup, but I did promise that we would give it our best shot for the Korean people,” Stielike said at the press conference held inside the airport. “Our players showed that the Korean people could be proud of their players.”

While the Korean team gained precious experience from the Asian Cup, Stielike added, they will not remain content with the result of the tournament and will continue to strive for better results.

Star forward Son Heung-min, who scored a dramatic game-tying goal in the dying seconds of regulation in the final, also thanked the fans for the reception, but admitted that losing the title decider in extra time is lingering in his mind.

“We went to Australia to win,” Son said. “I feel honored that the fans are happy with our efforts, but I still would’ve preferred winning the title.”

Captain Ki Sung-yueng also admired his teammates and promised that the team will continue to stay focused on achieving its dream of winning the Asian Cup title, which it hasn’t won since 1960.

“We gave it our best shot,” said Ki. “We will try to get even better and win the tournament next time.”

The next Asian Cup is scheduled to be held in Iran or UAE in 2019.

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Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency

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AFC Asian Cup 2015

5 Reasons Why Team Korea Must Win the Asian Cup Final

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

After reaching the Asian Cup final for the first time in 27 years, South Korea’s national soccer team will now take on host Australia with the hopes of winning the coveted continental title.

South Korea last won the Asian Cup in 1960 when it was merely a four-team competition. Since then, the tournament has grown into a 16-team extravaganza. Averaging nearly 20,000 fans per game, the 2015 Asian Cup is on course to reach a record overall attendance of 650,000 as the final between Korea and the home team at Stadium Australia in Sydney, which seats 84,000 this Saturday at 1 a.m. PT, has already been sold out.

Here are five reasons why it would be amazing for Team Korea to finally win the Asian Cup:

1. Winning a continental championship on a six-game win streak would boost Korea’s currently abysmal ranking in world soccer.

The FIFA Coca Cola World Ranking   Ranking Table   FIFA.com

After failing to impress at the World Cup in Brazil last summer, South Korea’s nation soccer team’s ranking plummeted to an all-time low at 69th in the world, according to FIFA. Per FIFA’s ranking procedures, the best way for a team to climb up the ladder is to win games in continental tournaments, such as the Asian Cup, European Championships and Copa America.

If Korea beats Australia in the Asian Cup final, then its six-game winning streak will certainly guarantee a significantly higher place in the FIFA rankings when the new list is released in February.

2. As Asian champions, Korea would be sent to the Confederations Cup, where it would play against the world’s best teams a year ahead of the World Cup. 

confederations-cup-trophy-600x223Photo credit: WorldSoccerTalk.com

It isn’t always easy for national teams like Korea, with its limited funding, to arrange games against top class opponents to prepare for the World Cup. An Asian Cup title would solve this issue immediately at no cost, as continental champions are invited to compete in the Confederations Cup, a quadrennial tournament held a year before every World Cup.

If Korea wins the Asian Cup, it would earn an invaluable chance to play against the European and South American champions in 2017 as well as play in venues where the World Cup will take place the following year.

3. There is no better way to send off soon-to-be-retired veteran Cha Du-ri than making him an Asian champion in his last game for Korea. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1.12.20 PMPhoto credit: Osen

Cha, a 34-year-old fullback who has represented Korea for the last 14 years, is set to retire from the national team after the Asian Cup. The bald-headed veteran was controversially left out of the team roster for last year’s World Cup, in which he took part as a color commentator for South Korean TV network SBS.

When Korea lost 4-2 to Algeria in the World Cup, Cha cried during the nationally televised broadcast and said, “I apologize to our players, because experienced players like me weren’t good enough to make the team. Our young players were forced to carry a burden that was just too heavy for them.”

Cha, who has since returned to the team, already assisted two vital goals for Korea in the Asian Cup, and will have a chance to avenge the disappointment of missing what could have been his third World Cup appearance.

4.  Team Korea has an opportunity for redemption after its embarrassment at the World Cup.

soccer-team-yeotPhoto credit: Yonhap

When the Korean players returned to the country last July after failing to win a game at the World Cup for the first time in 1998, some fans held a sign that read, “Korean soccer is dead,” and threw a barrage of yeot candy at them to express their disgust.

After beating Iraq in the Asian Cup semifinals, South Korean captain Ki Sung-yueng said, “The No. 1 reason we have to win this tournament is to restore our pride. We would feel hugely undone if we don’t win it at this point.”

Lifting the Asian Cup trophy for the first time in 55 years will surely be the best way for the team to recover the Korean people’s support and faith.

5. Korea’s national soccer players would gain immeasurable experience and a psychological boost if they become Asia’s best team with a depleted roster. 

Asian-Cup

With injuries to first-choice forwards, such as Kim Shin-wook and Lee Dong-gook, South Korea’s newly-appointed German head coach Uli Stielike was left to bank on Lee Jung-hyup, an inexperienced 22-year-old striker who hasn’t even been a starter for his K League club Sangju Sangmu.

Lee has been a revelation during the Asian Cup after scoring two game-winning goals for Korea, but the national team has suffered devastating blows since the start of the tournament, especially with two of its best players–Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-chael–ruled out with injuries.

While it’s true that the team would become much stronger once the injured players recover, winning the Asian Cup with a wounded team would serve as a badge of honor for Team Korea.

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Featured image courtesy of AFCAsianCup.com

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Asian Cup

S. Korea Reaches Asian Cup Final for the First Time in 27 Years

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

After notching a 2-0 win over Iraq in the rainy semifinal of this year’s Asian Cup in Sydney, Australia on Monday, the South Korean men’s soccer team has booked its place in the final of the Asian Cup for the first time since 1988.

Forward Lee Jung-hyub opened the scoring in the 20th minute after he leaped past the Iraqi defenders to head home Kim Jin-su’s sweeping diagonal free kick from the right side. The 23-year-old striker, who was largely an unknown player before Korea’s head coach Uli Stielike selected him in the roster for the Asian Cup, now has two goals in the tournament.

Only five minutes into the second half, Lee rose to the occasion again when he chested down a lobbed pass for Kim Young-gwon, whose left-footed half volley deflected off of an Iraqi defender and found the net, sealing the historic victory for Korea.

“The coach just asked me to do exactly what I’ve done in training,” Lee said after the match. “A forward has to score. That’s my job. I spoke to Coach Stielike privately after we came to Sydney. He told me, ‘Don’t feel pressured. I’ll take responsibility regardless of how well or bad you play.’ His trust helped me a lot and I’ve been getting better every match.”

The final will take place at the same venue in Sydney on Saturday at 1 a.m. PT. Korea will play the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal match between Australia and United Arab Emirates.

“The first reason we have to win this competition is for the pride we have for the Korean national team,” said Ki Sung-yueng, Korea’s newly-appointed captain. “The second reason is for the players [Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol] who got injured and had to leave the team during the tournament. Now that we’re in the final, we’ve got to win the title. Our desperation is higher than ever. We would feel hugely undone if we don’t win it now.”

South Korea hasn’t won the Asian Cup since 1960 when it hosted what was then only a four-team competition, which has grown into a 16-team affair over the past half-century. In addition, the last time Korea even played in an Asian Cup final was in 1988 when it lost to Saudi Arabia after a penalty shoot-out. Since then, the Taegeuk Warriors haven’t advanced further than the semifinals.

Going into Saturday’s final, Korea is carrying an all-time record of a 15-match undefeated streak in the Asian Cup (losses in penalty shoot-outs are considered as draws). In addition, Korea has not conceded a goal in this tournament for 480 minutes, which is also an all-time record.

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Croatia Seeks to Naturalize Korean Soccer Player for Its National Team

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

In the past, South Korea sought granting citizenship to imported foreign players to imported foreign players in order to improve its national soccer team. However, due to Korea’s strong sense of ethnic nationalism, the country opted not to naturalize these foreign athletes each time it faced overwhelming public opposition.

In the case of Korean soccer player Chung Woon, the tables have turned.

Croatia, a country with a national soccer team that is ranked 19th in the world (Korea is ranked 69th) by FIFA, is currently attempting to naturalize Chung after the 25-year-old’s impressive two-year stint in its top-flight professional soccer league.

“Croatia’s soccer federation made an offer to Chung to obtain citizenship,” said the player’s agent, Lee Gyeong-won, according to South Korean newspaper Ilgan Sports. “Talks have already taken place to make Chung a member of the Croatian national team. Discussions are already 90 percent complete.”

If the naturalization is processed, Chung would become the first South Korean national to represent a country aside from his birthplace in international soccer.

With Croatia vying for its fourth consecutive qualification for the 2016 European Championship, the country’s soccer federation president Davor Suker—whose legendary playing career includes winning the European title with Real Madrid in 1998 and taking Croatia to the World Cup semifinals—has publicly declared his interest in helping Chung become eligible in representing Croatia.

“It didn’t make any sense to me at first,” Chung said of his reaction to the Croatian national team’s offer, according to a recent interview with Ilgan Sports. “It’s not an easy decision to give up on my own roots to represent another country. But purely from a soccer standpoint, there are positives. No one in Korea ever recognized me, but I’ve been accepted in Croatia. So I’m seriously considering the offer.”

Chung signed a two-year contract with Croatia’s NK Istra in February 2013 as a free agent after he and his former Korean club, Ulsan Hyundai, reached an agreement to terminate his contract. The leftback out of Myongji University failed to make his mark in South Korea’s K-League as he was unable to make a single appearance during star-studded Ulsan’s historical season, in which the team won the Asian Champions League.

“I went to Croatia, thinking that if I don’t pan out there, I’d quit soccer,” Chung told WITHnews last year. “Looking back now, it was a huge gamble. But when I tell coaches in Croatia now that I’ve never played for Korea, they find it shocking, although I admit that I wasn’t very good when I played in Korea.”

Given the globalization of professional soccer, it’s difficult to determine whether South Korea’s K-League or the Prva HNL of Croatia is of higher quality. That in turn makes it even harder to objectively gauge the legitimacy of Chung’s recent success in Europe after his failure back home. In January of last year, the International Federation of Soccer History and Statistics ranked the K-League as the 23rd strongest league in the world ahead of the Prva HNL, which was ranked at 32nd. However, the Croatian clubs have convincingly outperformed their Korean counterparts at producing top-notched players.

While the K-League’s biggest talents in recent years include Ki Sung-yueng and Lee Chung-yong, who have gone on to establish respectable careers in the globally renowned English Premier League, they are still conceivably low on the totem pole of international soccer’s premier players, especially compared to the likes of Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic—players who have won titles for distinguished European powerhouses, such as Real Madrid of Spain and Germany’s Bayern Munich, after they came out of the Prva HNL.

In a league that has developed some of Europe’s finest players, Chung has been earmarked as a starter for Istra and made over 50 appearances for the club in the last two and a half seasons. He quickly developed a reputation of an all-hustle, defensive stalwart and this past week, signed a three-year contract with RNK Split, one of Croatia’s more glamorous clubs.

After Chung’s quest for Croatian citizenship was publicized back home, critics accused him of merely trying to switch allegiance in an effort to dodge South Korea’s compulsory two-year military service, which Chung would have to complete before turning 30. But Chung insists that he would willingly give up the chance to represent his newly-adopted country if he could earn a call-up to the Korean national team in the near future.

“I have no intention of avoiding the military service,” Chung said in the recent Ilgan Sports interview. “I would have no reason to become Croatian if the Korean national team ever selects me. But in Croatia, people think it should be a no-brainer for me to accept the offer and take the citizenship.”

Whether Chung deserves Korean national team’s selection is still debatable. Korea already possesses a plethora of talented leftbacks, namely Kim Jin-su, Park Joo-ho and Yun Suk-young. Kim and Park play professionally for Hoffenheim and Mainz, respectively, in German Bundesliga, which is touted as one of the world’s best leagues. Both athletes also played a prominent role in leading Korea to a gold medal at the Asian Games last year. In addition, Yun is an emerging leftback for the English Premier League’s Queens Park Rangers.

“It’s something I’ll have to think about over time,” Chung, who has never represented Korea beyond the youth national team level, said about becoming Croatian. “It’ll be a decision that could change my life. It’s definitely not an easy decision.”

Featured image courtesy of WITHnews

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