After beating Saudi Arabia on penalties and Australia in extra time, Jurgen Klinsmann-coached Korea Republic seemed destined to reach an AFC Asian Cup final for the first time since 1960.
Jordan had other ideas. The Middle Eastern nation shocked the South Koreans in Tuesday’s tournament semifinal in Qatar, with second-half goals by Yazan Al-Naimat and Musa Al-Taamari propelling the Jordanians to a 2-0 victory and a spot in Saturday’s championship match against either the host nation or Iran. Qatar and Iran will meet on Wednesday in the other semifinal.
It’s a momentous victory for Jordan, which has never reached the Asian Cup final in the 68-year history of the competition. For Korea Republic, Tuesday’s defeat represents a colossal disappointment. While the Taegeuk Warriors tied both Jordan and Malaysia in the first round and finished second behind Bahrain in Group E, they rebounded by reeling off consecutive knockout wins to reach the final four. The hard part, it seemed, was done.
Ranked third in Asia by FIFA, Klinsmann’s team was heavily favored to survive Tuesday’s contest against No. 13 Jordan and go on to play for the title. South Korea boasts a legitimate all-planet attacker in team captain and Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min — whose free-kick goal in the 104th minute was the difference against the Socceroos — and two other bona fide European standouts in Paris Saint-Germain’s Lee Kang-in and Hwang Hee-chan of Premier League Wolverhampton Wanderers.
But Klinsmann’s tactics were heavily criticized by South Korea’s media and fans alike during the uninspiring group stage performance at the continental championship, and this was their worst performance yet. Overall, the results under Klinsmann have been poor.
Hired by South Korea exactly 12 months ago, shortly after the two-time Asian champs reached the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup, the 59-year-old German was the country’s highest-profile hire since Dutchman Guus Hiddink famously led the 2002 World Cup co-hosts to the semis of soccer’s marquee event.
But Klinsmann’s first impression wasn’t great. He failed to win any of his first five games in charge and also drew the ire of the Korean press for commuting to the job from his longtime home in Southern California, inviting questions about his commitment to the project.
Those issues have all been recurring themes for Klinsmann at his previous managerial stops. Klinsmann — who as a player was one of the best strikers of the 1990s, helping Germany win a World Cup and a European Championship — coached the United States from 2011-16 and Die Mannschaft before that. He’s also been the manager at Bundesliga clubs Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin. None of those jobs ended particularly well for Klinsmann, with the possible exception of Germany’s third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup on home soil.
Now, after seeing his squad eliminated from the Asian Cup in such stunning fashion, the pressure on Klinsmann will only increase. His contract runs through the 2026 World Cup. Whether Klinsmann is still South Korea’s boss by then remains to be seen.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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