Football

South Korea face Uzbekistan in crucial World Cup qualifier

Under-fire coach Shin Tae Yong has promised South Korea will "beef up their mental strength" and go all out for a win against Uzbekistan today to secure World Cup qualification for a ninth successive time.

"We'll return home with victory no matter what," vowed Shin, ahead of their final Asian zone Group A encounter in Tashkent.

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

The result proved particularly embarrassing for the 2002 semi-finalists, who failed to fire a single shot on target against Iran despite the visitors playing the last 40 minutes with 10 men.

Defeat in Uzbekistan could see South Korea fail to make it to the global showpiece for the first time since 1982.

Unbeaten Iran, who have 21 points from nine matches, are already assured of top spot in Group A and have yet to concede a goal.

South Korea are second on 14 points, but Syria and Uzbekistan are both two points behind.

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

On last week's draw with Iran, Shin told reporters in Tashkent: "We're in a difficult situation, but we'll beef up our mental strength and will win.

"It is not that we didn't want to score. 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 get the goals to win."

Stand-in captain Kim Yong Gwon sparked anger and ridicule when he complained that teammates could not hear one another 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." - AFP

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