‘Look at these eyes,’ Klinsmann says, burning with determination
South Korean soccer is on a mission to return to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup after a 64-year absence. The Taegeuk Warriors, dressed in neat uniforms, vowed to return home with the trophy.
Led by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, the team took the stage for a farewell ceremony at the 2023 KFA Awards held at Mayfield Hotel in Gangseo-gu, Seoul on the afternoon of Feb. 2. Speaking at the event, Klinsmann said, “We are traveling to Qatar with a lot of energy and faith in our squad. We have prepared well and hope to see you in six weeks with a good result (win).” Lee Jae-sung (Mainz) said: “I personally like the word challenge. The Qatar Asian Cup is not just a challenge for us, it is a challenge for the past 64 years. This time, we will definitely come back with the Asian Cup trophy.”
“It is thanks to the fans who supported me day and night when I played for my club and the national team that I was able to receive this honor,” said Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich), who was named the Korean Football Association’s Player of the Year in the men’s category at the 2023 KFA Awards earlier in the day. “Our players will prepare well for the upcoming Asian Cup, and I am sure they will perform well, so please support them.”
After the ceremony, the team departed for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), via Incheon International Airport at 11:40 p.m., beginning a journey that will take up to a month to complete. The Abu Dhabi camp is the team’s acclimatization training in the Middle East before the Asian Cup, which begins in Doha, Qatar, in about 10 days.
South Korea’s record at the Asian Cup has been poor. They have finished as runners-up four times, including back-to-back defeats at the inaugural edition in 1956 and the second edition in 1960, but have never made it to the top.
This year’s edition of the Klinsmann is expected to be the strongest in South Korean soccer history. Of the 26 players announced by the national team on March 28, a record 12 are from Europe. In terms of players, there are no major changes to the roster from the World Cup in Qatar a year ago, but most of the players have matured and improved their performances to become more prominent on the European stage.
Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur) and Hwang Hee-chan (Wolverhampton) are among the top scorers in the English Premier League, while Kim Min-jae and Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) are starters for teams vying to win the UEFA Champions League. In addition, Hwang In-beom (Tsubena Zvezda), Lee Jae-sung, Cho Kyu-sung (Mitwylan), and Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart) are solidly entrenched in the top tier of their respective European leagues. After announcing the roster, Klinsmann said, “We have enough players to win the title. We will give them a big gift,” he said shortly after the announcement.
Klinsmann’s men will have a final test against Iraq at 10 p.m. on June 6 before arriving in Doha, Qatar, for the final match on June 10. South Korea, who are in Group E, will open their campaign against Bahrain on Friday at 8:30 p.m. before facing Jordan on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. and Malaysia on Friday at 8:30 p.m.