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Stielike to keep up intensity in upcoming matches

All Headlines 19:39 March 21, 2016

By Joo Kyung-don

ANSAN, South Korea, March 21 (Yonhap) -- Uli Stielike, head coach of South Korea men's national football team, said Monday that his team will not let their guard down even though the country has already clinched a spot in the next regional World Cup qualifying round.

South Korea, 57th in FIFA rankings, will host world No. 145 Lebanon on Thursday in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The national team will then travel to Bangkok to face world No. 118 Thailand in a friendly match on Sunday.

South Korea have already clinched the top seed in Group G with six straight wins and will advance to the final round of the regional qualification. The country was supposed to face Kuwait next Tuesday for their final match in Group G, but the match was postponed indefinitely, as the Middle East nation is still serving FIFA sanctions.

Despite playing in comfortable situations, Stielike said that he will not waste the two matches.

"These matches could have no meaning since we have already advanced to the final round of the qualification," Stielike told reporters at Ansan Wa Stadium in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, where the match against Lebanon will be played. "However, we have been playing great since last year, and I don't want to ruin that milestone by not playing well in upcoming matches."

Stielike led South Korea to 16 wins and three draws against just one loss last year. He said that for the next two matches, he will especially look closely at how players who have not been regular with their clubs will perform. Left backs Kim Jin-su of Hoffenheim and Park Joo-ho of Borussia Dortmund, and midfielder Lee Chung-yong of Crystal Palace have been struggling to find their spot on their European clubs.

"I have given them an opportunity (to prove themselves)," he said. "I will see how they perform and answer to my call-up."

Stielike added that he wanted to find replacements of Europe-based players from the K League Classic, the top-tier league in South Korea, but lamented that he didn't have enough time to look at players since the domestic league kicked off just two weeks ago.

"For the next call-up, we have about two months left," he said. "Until then, I will search for players in the K League who have talent to be on the national team."

From his 23-man squad announced last Monday, Stielike already replaced two players because of their injuries. Gamba Osaka right back Oh Jae-suk was replaced by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors right back Kim Chang-soo, while FC Augsburg forward Ji Dong-won was dropped and his place was taken by FC Seoul central midfielder Ju Se-jong.

Stielike said that having a replacement for the right back position won't be a problem, but the absence of Ji will force a slight change to the team's offensive tactics.

"I was thinking of using Ji as a side attacker, but because he isn't available, we will probably have to use Nam Tae-hee and Koo Ja-cheol on the flanks," he said.

South Korea haven't allowed a goal in the last six matches. They can tie the national record for most consecutive shutout matches if they don't surrender a goal against Lebanon. Stielike's side is the only Asian team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup second round regional qualifiers that has kept a perfect record and hasn't conceded a goal.

"Please report this fact bigger, so that our players can see it," Stielike said with a laugh. "We will continue to work hard to extend this record."

kdon@yna.co.kr
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