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2023 AFC Asian Cup: Jurgen Klinsmann press conference highlights and key takeaways

South Korean national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann spoke to the press on Thursday following the announcement of his 26-man squad. He fielded questions about certain inclusions, certain exclusions, and talked about the Taeguk Warriors' chances in Qatar. We bring you the highlights and key takeaways from that press conference.
Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Opening remarks:

"It's exciting when you are right before a huge tournament and you get the opportunity to name your roster, to name a team that wants to do really, really well for its country. So, it's a very special moment, it's a very special moment for the players and also for our federation. They all look very excited, they all want to do well in Qatar and as we've said many, many times, our goal is to go to Qatar to win the Asian Cup and I can see it in their eyes that they are hungry for it and so we are ready."

On Kim Ji-soo's inclusion:

"When the Asian [Football] Confederation decided to go from 23 to 26 players, we coaches were happy because maybe we have the opportunity to give three more spots, especially to future players for Korea, for the Korean national team. Kim Ji-soo is one of these. He was with us in September during the games with Wales and Saudi Arabia in Europe and I got to know him and followed him, obviously, in touch with his team and he's doing well, he's progressing. So, the additional three spots gave us an opportunity to give that chance to some younger players and gives us a little bit more variety in the roster."

Positions in the squad given the most thought:

"It's part of [the position as] a coach to make those decisions and [making] the cut is always difficult. You have players on the list that also would deserve to go to Qatar and be part the 26 players so it always hurts when you cannot bring a player that you would love to bring but that's just the way it is. Certainly, a big talking point, and it's still a big talking point, is the situation from (Hwang) Ui-jo, you with Norwich City and his ongoing situation and his case, it's very difficult for us as coaches to deal with that because it's not in our power, it's in the power of the authorities and it's in the power of himself and his attorneys. So when you get caught into a situation like that it's sad, and I talked for six months about (Son) Jun-ho and the situation in China which has still not been resolved. So those kinds of situations make it very difficult for a coach to deal with because you are helpless, you cannot solve those problems because it's not in your power. But whenever you have to tell a player they are not part of a roster going to a big, big tournament, that obviously is part of the difficult situation for a coach - it's part of your job."

On who is Hwang Ui-jo's replacement, can Son Heung-min or Hwang Hee-chan fill his position and the situation behind Yang Hyun-jun's selection:

"Obviously, with a 26-man roster, you have enough spots in order to fill in whatever position you want to. If you want to have a deeper number nine kind of selection I think with Oh (Hyeon-gyu) we have a perfect number nine there waiting for a chance to play. (Cho) Gue-sung is spot on there, he's sent as a starter. Sonny can always play like a false number nine as sometimes at Tottenham. I think we have a variety there, we have variety on the wings as well. I think when you go through the roster and you go through the skeleton of a team - a skeleton means who are the most important pieces to build your team around - I think you can be really proud as Korean fans and journalists obviously, the situation looks very positive because you have starting with a centre back, one of the best centre backs in the world. He was voted best centre back in Italy which is almost impossible to become in Italy the best centre back with (Kim) Min-jae. Min-jae matured into an absolute leader of this team and then we have a very strong midfield and we have upfront Sonny, we have players now that flourish if it's (Hwang) Hee-chan can be on the left, (Lee) Kang-in, as a I mentioned is coming through like a flower that start to bloom, a very young player. We have (Lee) Jae-sung too who is very, very experienced leader upfront as well. We have a lot of different pieces in that roster and that makes us one of the favourites for the Asian Cup and I think what we need to do is to fine-tune these elements in the next couple of weeks and then go into that tournament with confidence. We have the willingness to win the title."

On when the squad will all be together:

"The players that are currently still in Europe, they join the team on the 3rd of January in Abu Dhabi so we are going to fly out on the 2nd from Seoul to Abu Dhabi in the evening. This is part of the job as a coach to be in touch with the coaches of the players in Europe or wherever. It's all good, it all looks good. We hope for everyone that they stay healthy, that no injury comes. This is what we hope from the national team. We are excited, we are really excited about this competition because a competition like the Asian Cup, personally I played three World Cups and three European Championships and I played the Olympics here in Seoul, a competition like this is about timing and you want your players to peak exactly at the time when this tournament happens. I have a good feeling because they're doing well in their clubs, they're healthy, they're fit, they're ambitious, and they're very hungry. This is the foundation for playing a good tournament and once the tournament starts it all needs to fall into place and you need a little bit of luck too, it could be a penalty shootout, it could be a knockout game and whatever but it's all about timing now and I think we are ready for this big, big competition and as we saw on the video, it's 64 years (since Korea last won). Sixty-four years is a long time for Korea so it's about time that we get this done."

On the selection of Lee Ki-je:

"Ki-je has obviously been through a difficult time with this club team (Suwon Bluewings). That was not easy for him and it's also for us his national team also not easy because you feel for the player and you see his rhythm. But he was in camp from the beginning of this year with me; he always did his job, he was always in outstanding shape, and he played very, very well from game to game. So, that's when you have as a national team manager, you have to help the player. You have to help him through a difficult period when he struggles with the club team for whatever reason which is not our job to judge that. So, he's done well and it's certainly a position, the left back position and also the right back position where we are always looking, younger players are also coming through the ranks. Finally, we obviously found a solution with Seol (Young-woo) on the right side - a young player that broke through this year with the national team. On the left side, it's Ki-je and (Kim) Jin-su. They are holding their spot and they deserve to be in Qatar and they deserve to get their games. But it was not easy for Ki-je the last few months but we trust in him, we believe in him and we know he's a top class professional. When he's on the field he's always delivered."   

On scouting the opposition:

"This is part of our daily work of coaches is obviously to look ahead and look at the teams and analyse the teams. We scouted them already live at the stadiums wherever they played the last couple of months, all three opponents of the group stage so we have a good picture already of our opponents and for all of them we have a lot of respect and every game will be a difficult game but I expect us to go through there. We slowly found a rhythm through 2023, it was a difficult start and then step by step I think the team picked up our ideas and the team picked up more tempo and the last couple of games were very, very good games. But once you go in the tournament it all doesn't count anymore, it only counts the next opponent you have in front of you and you all have to respect them and that's what we're going to do. So we did a lot of our homework already and we have a good picture of every team we face in the group stage.

Main takeaways

  • Seoul Young-woo and Lee Ki-je will be his first choice full backs
  • Feels aggrieved about the Hwang Ui-jo situation but the 26-man squad has helped
  • Seemed to make a point of saying Bahrain, Malaysia, and Jordan have been scouted onsite (i.e. not on Wyscout)
  • Expect some fluidity in attack with Son Heung-min as a false 9
  • Seems confident of Korea's chances
  • Looked to be trying to win the press over following a sticky start to his tenure
  • Will use his experience to make sure Korea are firing on all cylinders at the right time

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