SEOUL South Korea coach Uli Stielike said on Wednesday that he would "take the fall" for poor results that have put the country's hopes of automatic qualification for next year's World Cup finals in jeopardy, although he stopped short of resigning.
Stielike's three-year reign as South Korea coach looked to be coming to an end on Wednesday after a 3-2 loss to Qatar in Doha, and the coach said he would accept whatever decision the Korean FA took regarding his future.
The 62-year-old former Germany midfielder had already been under pressure after two defeats in four qualifiers going into Tuesday's match, where the team's once all-but impenetrable defence was breached three times.
"I fully understand we've not been playing well of late and I think I have to take the fall for that," Stielike was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency after the team returned from Doha. "I am well aware of the criticism on our team."
Stielike said he had not thought about resigning and backed South Korea to hold on to their automatic qualification berth no matter who was at the helm.
"I think South Korea should play the remaining two matches as well as they can to qualify for the World Cup," he added. "Whether I will be the head coach or someone else will be on the bench is of secondary importance."
The defeat in Doha leaves the Red Devils in second place in Group A of Asian qualifying, just one point ahead of Uzbekistan, with two matches remaining. The top two from the group get tickets to Russia.
"We're just holding on to second place, and the general feeling around the KFA is that even if we do qualify for the World Cup, we won't be so competitive if we play the way we have," Yonhap quoted an unnamed "high-ranking" Korean FA official as saying on Wednesday.
Third place in the group would offer a potential passage to the World Cup via a playoff against the team in the same position in the other Asian group, with another tie against a CONCACAF team to follow.
They host already-qualified Iran in their penultimate qualifier in late August before the crucial trip to Uzbekistan in the final round of matches in early September.
South Korea have played at the last eight World Cup finals, reaching the semi-finals on home soil in 2002, but they returned home from Brazil without a win in 2014.
Stielike was brought in and restored some pride when he led the side at the 2015 Asian Cup, where his team reached the final without conceding a goal before losing to hosts Australia.
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney and Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by John O'Brien. Neville Dalton)