Asian Cup final a step too far for South Korea and Klinsmann's 'zombie football'

February 7, 2024 12:00 pm

[Source: Reuters]

South Korea’s late comebacks at the Asian Cup had earned them the tag of playing ‘zombie football’ after they always came back to life when they appeared dead, but it could also describe how they stumbled and eventually fell in the semi-final.

South Korea rode their luck when they scored goals after the 90th minute in four straight matches, with late strikes in the last 16 and quarter-finals forcing extra time against Saudi Arabia and Australia, respectively.

But in Tuesday’s semi-final, Juergen Klinsmann’s side were beaten by a hard-working Jordan team who claimed a famous 2-0 win which saw the West Asian side advance to the final for the first time.

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South Korea began their campaign as one of the pre-tournament favourites, but the team made up of several Europe-based players led by Son Heung-min were second best on the night as Jordan extended the east Asian side’s 64-year trophy drought.

“I am really sorry to our supporters,” a dejected Son said. “We all did our best, but we’re really sorry that our mistakes led to this kind of result.”
South Korea’s fatigue after twice going to extra time worked in Jordan’s favour, but the manner in which the Middle Eastern side dismantled their opponents was solid proof that Hussein Ammouta’s well-drilled team had done their homework.

For all the talent at Klinsmann’s disposal, his team seemed less than the sum of their parts, conceding in every single game while their attack relied on flashes of individual brilliance.

It was primarily their resilience and fitness, the energy to keep going when their opponents began to tire, that dragged South Korea into the semi-final.
South Korea had no answer to Jordan’s constant press while Son was once again stifled as the Tottenham Hotspur forward finished the tournament without a goal from open play.

“I have no regrets, I was giving everything,” Son added. “It was a really tough competition. The level of Asian football is getting higher.”


Klinsmann has been an unpopular appointment for many fans back home in South Korea and although he took responsibility for their exit, he did not offer to resign amid pressure and criticism.

The German has been questioned constantly about his demeanour in the dugout and for smiling when things went awry.

He was questioned again after he was seen smiling as he shook hands with Ammouta and congratulated the Jordan team, who he said deserved to go through to the final.

“For me it’s normal to congratulate the other team and the coach when they were better. It’s a sign of respect,” he said. “If you say I shouldn’t smile, then we have different approaches.”

“I am very disappointed, I’m angry because we should have done better tonight. I’m certainly not walking around tonight now and smiling.
“But there are reasons why we lost this game and we should accept that.”