SEOUL, June 8 (Reuters) - With South Korea racing to contain the outbreak of a deadly virus, national football team coach Uli Stielike hopes to lift the country’s spirits by getting their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign off to a flying start next week.
South Korea face United Arab Emirates in a friendly in Malaysia on Thursday before travelling to Bangkok for their Group G opener against Myanmar on June 16.
A couple of good performances by the team would provide some welcome distraction for South Koreans, who have been dealing with the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Six people have died so far and the Health Ministry reported 23 new infections on Monday, bringing the total number to 87.
Stielike, who took over the team late last year and lead the Koreans to the Asian Cup final in January, told reporters on Monday winning was always the target but doing so in testing times would be extra special.
“Regardless of MERS we always have to win, but in these difficult times it would be even better to bring the people some happiness through victory,” he was quoted as saying by Yonhap News agency.
“Of course our target is to win, and the players and coaches will work together to continue the good work we showed at the Asian Cup.”
While Malaysia has advised its nationals not to visit South Korea due to the MERS outbreak, a Korea Football Association official said there was no problem with the team travelling to Kuala Lumpur for Thursday’s friendly.
The official told Reuters the players’ temperatures were being monitored and that they were making sure masks were available and hygiene procedures were being followed, but there had been no additional safety procedures requested by Malaysia.
South Korea’s top flight soccer league and baseball organisation say they have no plans to postpone matches as yet, but the MERS outbreak has hit some smaller sports events.
This month’s Suwon Continental Cup under-17 football tournament was postponed until later in the year, while Korea’s university basketball federation has suspended games until the MERS threat passes.
The National Rhythmic Gymnastics competition has also been delayed due to fears about the spread of the disease. (Writing by Peter Rutherford, Additional reporting by Oh Seung-yun; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)