SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea coach Uli Stielike was sacked on Thursday, two days 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, who took over on a four-year contract in 2014, had been under pressure after two defeats in four qualifiers going into Tuesday’s match.
The Korean Football Association (KFA) confirmed the decision after a technical committee meeting in Paju, bringing an end to a reign that started on a high but ended with qualification for a ninth successive World Cup far from certain.
KFA technical director Lee Yong-soo also stood down on Thursday.
The loss 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 get tickets to Russia.
Third place would offer a passage to the World Cup via a playoff against the team in the same position in the other Asian group with another home-and-away tie against a CONCACAF team to follow.
South Korea 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.
The KFA have not decided yet who will take over as coach for the final two qualifiers.
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 in 2014 without a win.
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.
That was the only loss in 2015 for the South Koreans and they cruised through the second round of Asian qualifying with eight wins from eight matches.
A 6-1 friendly thrashing at the hands of Spain in June 2016 was a sign that the once all but impenetrable defence was developing cracks, however.
A 0-0 draw with Syria in September that year followed by a 1-0 defeat to Iran in Tehran made for a disappointing start to the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying and a stunning 1-0 loss to China earlier this year compounded it.
Writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ian Ransom