SEOUL, June 14 (Reuters) - Uli 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 put the country’s hopes of automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in jeopardy.
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.
The defeat in Doha leaves the Red Devils just one point ahead of Uzbekistan in second place in Group A of Asian qualifying 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 news agency quoted an unnamed “high ranking” Korean FA official as saying on Wednesday.
Third place in the group would offer a passage to the World Cup involving 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 a 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; Editing by John O‘Brien)