(3rd LD) Football officials recommend firing of Jurgen Klinsmann as S. Korea head coach

SEOUL, South Korean football officials on Thursday recommended the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann as head coach of the men's national team on Thursday after the country's disappointing semifinal exit at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. The National Team Committee of the Korea Football Association (KFA) reached its decision during its postmortem meeting at the KFA House in Seoul, putting the ball in the court of their besieged leader to make the final call. Klinsmann attended the meeting on a video conference from his U.S. home. After several hours of meeting, Hwangbo Kwan, the KFA's technical director, told reporters the committee members had agreed to call for Klinsmann's firing. "For a number of reasons, we concluded that Klinsmann would no longer be able to show his leadership as head coach of the national team," Hwangbo said. "We will report our conclusion to the KFA." South Korea lost to Jordan 2-0 in the semifinals of the top AFC tournament in Qatar last week, unable to end the coun try's 64-year title drought. Klinsmann has been under growing pressure to resign for failing to guide a talented South Korean squad -- featuring Tottenham Hotspur captain Son Heung-min, among others -- to the long-coveted AFC championship. Since the National Team Committee is not a decision-making body, it can only make recommendations to the KFA's Executive Board, which will have the final say. KFA President Chung Mong-gyu, who has also been hearing calls to quit for hiring Klinsmann in the first place, will be the person in charge of that fateful decision on the beleaguered coach. Several protesters braved rainy and windy conditions earlier in the day to set up camp outside the KFA headquarters and call on both Klinsmann and Chung to resign. Hwangbo said the committee's members and Klinsmann traded views on the Asian Cup performance, and the meeting also included a QandA session between members and the coach. Hwangbo added that discussions on Klinsmann's future took place after Klinsmann had logged off , and the German coach had not been informed of the committee's decision at the time of Hwangbo's media briefing. Hwangbo said the decision to recommend Klinsmann's dismissal was not unanimous. Some members said the KFA should keep Klinsmann aboard for now with World Cup qualifying matches coming up in March. Klinsmann was appointed South Korea's head coach in February last year. He coached his first match in March, a 2-2 draw against Colombia, and the team went winless in Klinsmann's first five games before finishing the 2023 season on a five-match winning streak. South Korea then beat Iraq 1-0 on Jan. 6 in their final tuneup before the Asian Cup. In the first group match of the tournament, South Korea, world No. 23, beat 86th-ranked Bahrain 3-1. It ended up being the team's only victory in 90 minutes. They were held to a 2-2 draw by 87th-ranked Jordan in the next match, salvaging a point thanks to a late own goal by their opponent. Then South Korea settled for a 3-3 draw against No. 130 Malaysia after giving up a stoppage-time equalizer to the massive underdog. In the round of 16, South Korea beat Saudi Arabia 4-2 on penalties, after Cho Gue-sung's 99th-minute header rescue them from the brink of defeat. South Korea staged another late rally to knock off Australia 2-1, with Hwang Hee-chan converting a 96th-minute penalty and Son netting a free kick goal 14 minutes into extra time. Their magic ran out in a rematch against Jordan in the semifinals. South Korea didn't even muster a shot on goal, as Jordan capitalized on South Korean miscues en route to a clean-sheet win. Along the way, Klinsmann faced much the same criticism that had dogged him from the early days of his tenure -- that he had very little to offer in the way of tactical instruction. Long before taking over South Korea, Klinsmann had been labeled as a coach who lacked X's and O's chops. "During the meeting, participants said we were not tactically prepared to play Jordan in the semifinals, even though we were playing them for the second ti me," Hwangbo noted. During the Asian Cup, Klinsmann was also blasted for smiling at inappropriate moments -- including in the immediate aftermath of South Korea's loss to Jordan, when he flashed a grin and congratulated his counterpart, Hussein Ammouta, on Jordan's win even as several South Korean players were shedding tears on the pitch. Klinsmann was seen as more of a motivator-type coach whose relentless optimism brought some levity to South Korea's pressure-filled pursuit of their first Asian Cup crown since 1960. But Klinsmann's leadership skills have also been questioned this week, when it was belatedly revealed that some key players came to blows over table tennis on the eve of the semifinals. According to sources familiar with the incident, captain Son Heung-min dislocated a finger in his right hand in a scuffle with midfielder Lee Kang-in, who had ignored Son's order to stop playing table tennis and rejoin the team dinner. Klinsmann is said to have been present at the scene but could not prevent the dustup. According to Hwangbo, Klinsmann claimed that discord within the team affected South Korea's performance on the field and did not acknowledge his lack of tactical preparation. Klinsmann has also been criticized for spending more time overseas than in South Korea and not giving enough attention to the domestic K League. Klinsmann has made a few scouting trips to Europe to watch South Korean players based there. Klinsmann's detractors have said he should follow the South Korean league and try to uncover new talent, instead of wasting his time following players whose places on the national team are already secure. "Some committee members said the coach has not shown willingness to watch players in person and identify talent," Hwangbo said. "Also, there were opinions that Klinsmann has been disrespectful toward the Korean public by not spending enough time in the country. Some said the public's trust in him has been damaged beyond repair because he has broken many promises." Klinsmann defied earlie r calls to step down. At his postmatch press conference following the semifinals and again at the airport media scrum upon arriving back in South Korea, Klinsmann was asked if he would take the fall for South Korea's showing and quit. On both occasions, he said his only plan was to review the team's performance at the tournament with the KFA and begin preparing for two World Cup qualifying matches against Thailand in March. He will not get the chance to coach South Korea in those matches, if Chung decides to follow the National Team Committee's recommendation and sack him. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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