Northern Ireland v Korea Republic

Words Michael Church

In football terms nothing matters in the east Asian nation as much as qualifying for the World Cup and the country’s hopes of a ninth consecutive appearance at the game’s greatest event were growing increasingly slim. The influence of German coach Uli Stielike, who in January 2015 had steered the country to the final of the Asian Cup for the first time since 1988, was on the wane and South Korea’s grip on one of Asia’s four automatic berths at this summer’s tournament was weakening by the game. A loss at the hands of Qatar in Doha in June 2017 was the final straw for the former Real Madrid midfielder and Stielike was handed his cards, with Shin shuffled hurriedly into position. To some it was a brave move, to others it smacked of desperation. Shin, for all his success at club and youth level, had never led a senior national side. Suddenly he was being thrust into the high- pressure position of having to lift a demoralised side and guide them over the World Cup finish line. For Shin, though, the appointment was a logical progression. As a player he was a key part of the Ilhwa Chunma midfield that conquered South Korea and Asia in the mid-nineties, with six league titles and the Asian Club Championship crown in 1995. He represented South Korea at international level, playing 23 times for his country, including at the 1996 Asian Cup. He never, however, was selected for the World Cup finals. Shin moved into coaching in 2009, taking over his old club – now known as Seongnam Ilhwa – in 2010 on a full-time basis after working as caretaker. He guided them to the Asian title at the end of his first full season before eventually being When Shin Taeyong took hold of the rudder during the final, choppy phase of South Korea’s World Cup qualifying campaign in the middle of last year, he was given a solitary goal: secure qualification for Russia 2018. KOREA REPUBLIC THE COACH

appointed the head coach of Korea’s under-23 team in 2016. He steered them to the final of the Asian U23 Championship in Qatar in 2016, where they lost to bitter rivals Japan having earlier secured a place at the finals of the Olympic football tournament in Rio de Janeiro. And while Shin’s team exited the Olympic tournament at the group stage, he remained well enough respected within the Korean game to be the first person the federation turned to when, with just two qualifiers remaining, the country needed someone to come in and finish the job. A pair of draws – against Iran and Uzbekistan – were enough to secure the ticket for Russia and Shin has since built on that success, guiding his team to the East Asian Championship title in December, having brought an increased level of tactical flexibility to his side to enhance hopes Korea can once again advance to the World Cup’s knockout phase. “After taking the job the task was to take the country to the World Cup for a ninth time in a row and I put everything into making sure we could advance to the World Cup,” said Shin. “In October we went to Russia to play with our home-based players as the core of the squad and the results disappointed our fans. But in November we had more friendly matches and we didn’t lose, so my players are showing an improvement. “Then we won the East Asian Championship (in December) so I think the players have regained their confidence, not only the players but myself and the coaching staff. Everybody has regained confidence so that we can go to the World Cup with confidence in our minds and with better preparation.”


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