South Korea’s coach promised a strong showing at next year’s World Cup as fans expressed fears for their prospects after they struggled into the tournament, their ninth in a row.
A goalless draw with Uzbekistan proved enough for the former World Cup semi-finalists to reach Russia 2018, after a patchy qualifying campaign which has left supporters unconvinced.
Coach Shin Tae-Yong, who took over from the sacked Uli Stielike in July, said he had not yet had enough time to mould the team into his favoured “offensive” football.
“The world will see how strong South Korea are at the World Cup,” he told journalists after Tuesday’s game in Tashkent.
South Korea had several late chances in Tuesday’s match, but the 0-0 draw was just enough to grab the second automatic berth in Group A as their heartbroken hosts missed out.
Fans, though, had mixed emotions after a difficult qualifying campaign that included shock defeats against China and Qatar.
“I am confused. Why am I angry rather than joyful after the team reached the World Cup?” one fan wrote on the Naver portal.
Another called the performance against Uzbekistan lacklustre, adding that while watching they felt “as stuffy as if I had 100 sweet potatoes at one sitting without washing them down with water”.
“Should we go to the World Cup just to be knocked out in the first round?” the fan added.
A third user posted: “Other teams will pray, ‘Please make us meet South Korea in the tournament’.”
But local television stations and the Korea Football Association (KFA) exhaled a collective sigh of relief.
A South Korean defeat could have left the country’s three major broadcasters facing major losses after they jointly paid $95 million for the rights to show Russia 2018.
The KFA could also have lost sponsorship contracts with local companies worth tens of millions of dollars, Yonhap news agency said.