(ATTN: ADDS comments throughout)
By Yoo Jee-ho
DOHA, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- Paulo Bento is not returning as head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, as a record-long tenure came to an end with a loss in the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Bento made the announcement in the early hours of Tuesday in Doha, moments after South Korea lost to Brazil 4-1 in the round of 16 at Stadium 974 in the Qatari capital.
"I have to think about the future. It will not be with the national team for South Korea," Bento, a Portugal native, said through an interpreter at his postmatch press conference. His contract expired with the conclusion of South Korea's run at the World Cup. "I just told the players, the president of the Korea Football Association. This is a decision that I had already taken in September. It was set in stone."
Bento was the longest-serving head coach in South Korean national football history, having started his job in August 2018.
South Korea had 35 wins, 13 draws and nine losses under Bento.
Following the press conference, Bento met with South Korean journalists in the mixed zone to clarify his position in English. His words from the presser were misinterpreted into Korean as saying he would think about his future after taking some time off, while those translated into English had Bento leaving the team after the World Cup.
"The federation made an offer after the qualifiers (in February). In September, I had taken the decision not to stay after the World Cup," Bento said. "I just confirmed again today to the players. I informed the president (Chung Mong-gyu) as well about my decision. I will not stay in Korea after the World Cup. I am going to come back to my country to rest a little bit and we'll see what comes in the future."
Asked what coaching South Korea meant to him, Bento said the keyword was "fantastic."
"Fantastic group. Fantastic players with fantastic work ethic. Very good professionals. Very good human beings. It was a fantastic experience for me and for my staff," Bento said. "It was an experience for me that I will remember until the last days of my life."
South Korea had gone through coaching changes barely a year before the 2014 and the 2018 World Cups, while Bento was in charge for the entire four-year buildup for the 2022 tournament. And the rout by the hands of Brazil did little to diminish the sense of pride Bento felt for his team.
"Our participation makes me proud and satisfied. This was one of the best groups I've worked with," Bento said at the presser. "I think them for everything they've done. I am very proud to have been their manager."
Bento often faced criticism for not diversifying his tactics and for sticking with a small group of players without expanding his talent pool. But by taking the underdog team to the knockout phase here, Bento silenced his detractors.
South Korea held world No. 14 Uruguay to a goalless draw to begin their journey here. They lost to Ghana 3-2 but not before erasing a 2-0 deficit with two quick goals in the second half. South Korea then stunned Portugal 2-1 in the final group match to book a date with Brazil in the round of 16.
Though South Korea barely put up a fight against the Selecao, Bento said he was happy with the four-plus years of process, calling it "extraordinary."
"I would say that we were very bold in how we approached the games, even during the knockout phase," Bento said. "We were loyal to our game style."
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