South Korea football coach Uli Stielike said he will try to improve the team's performance away from home after suffering a painful defeat to China in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
South Korea, ranked 40th in the FIFA rankings, fell 1-0 to 86th-ranked China at Helong Stadium in Changsha, China's Hunan Province, on Thursday. In the final regional qualification, South Korea are in Group A, along with Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, China and Qatar. With four matches remaining, South Korea are in second place with 10 points after collecting three wins, one draw and two losses. They are four points behind the group leaders Iran.
Only the top two nations in the group earn automatic berths to the 2018 World Cup, while the third-place team must go through playoff rounds to enter the world football's showpiece event. South Korea, however, are not in a safe position as Uzbekistan are only one point behind, while Syria are chasing them with eight points. South Korea have yet to score goals away from home and are still winless outside their soil in the final round. Stielike said he will analyze why his team performs poorly in away matches.
"The statistics show that we're not good in away matches, so I can't deny that," the coach said at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul. "I think our players feel too much pressure when playing outside home. It's not (a) matter of their physique or technique, but I think it's a mentality issue." Stielike said the best solution to solve that problem is collecting victories. South Korea will next host 95th-ranked Syria in Seoul on Tuesday.
"There's no other solution to make improvements, but to win," he said. "Having two losses in the final round is not a satisfying result. But we still have matches and I believe these situations will turn into positive ones in the future."
After the match against China, Stielike was criticized by football fans here for lacking tactical acumen on both ends of the pitch. The German said he is considering changing tactics. "I think we need to play more aggressively," he said. "But this doesn't mean we just have to move forward. We need to take advantage of our ball possession, execute well and make sure we can finish."