S. Korea football coach says referees will play important role in World Cup qualifier vs. China
SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea football coach Uli Stielike said Sunday referees will play an important role in the country's upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifier against China.
The South Korean men's national football team will face China in the final Asian qualification round for the 2018 World Cup on Thursday. The match will be played at Helong Stadium, Changsha, China. Both South Korea and China are in Group A, where they are also paired with Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Syria.
The two teams will clash amid deepening tension between South Korea and China over the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery. In what appears to be retaliatory actions over Seoul's decision to install the U.S. anti-missile system, Beijing has banned sales of South Korea-related tour packages and cracked down on business operations of some South Korean companies.
Stielike said the referees are given an important role to control China's rough plays in front of hardcore fans amid growing tensions between the two sides.
"We will respect the referees' decision, but we have also prepared for China's rough plays," Stielike said to reporters at Incheon International Airport before flying to China. "Our goal is to collect three points. China are not easy opponents, but we will try to collect a good result."
The South Korean men's national football team players and head coach Uli Stielike (L) pose for a photo at Incheon International Airport before flying to China on March 19, 2017, four days ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the Chinese national team. (Yonhap)
At the halfway point of the World Cup qualifications, South Korea have 10 points with three wins, one draw and one loss. They are one point behind the group leaders Iran with three wins and two draws. China are bottom cellars in the group with two draws and three losses.
South Korea boast dominant head-to-head record against China, with 18 wins, 12 draws and one loss.
"If you look at the group standings and head-to-head record, we have superior results against China," he said. "I asked our players not to be intimidated and keep the ball in possession."
Among the 23-member national team, 16 players departed for China along with Stielike on Sunday. The Korea Football Association (KFA) said the rest of the players will fly separately because of their respective clubs' schedule.
The KFA said Koo Ja-cheol and Ji Dong-won, who both play for German Bundesliga club FC Augsburg, took a flight to China after their league match against SC Freiburg on Saturday.
Swansea City midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min will land in Changsha on Monday. Stielike said he has high expectations for Ki, who made his first start for Swansea since January in the English Premier League match against Bournemouth on Saturday.
"Ki has an important role on the national team," Stielike said. "It's a positive sign for the national team that he played for his club."