South Korea dropped to Algeria 4-2 on Sunday in Group H, a loss that left the Asian side in last place among four teams at one point with the final group match versus Belgium set for Thursday.
Algeria scored three goals in a 12-minute stretch midway through the first half and the match was even more lopsided than the score indicates.
Back in the South Korean base camp of Foz do Iguacu, winger Son Heung-min said the team sorely lacked leadership to keep the players calm and steady in the face of the Algerian onslaught.
"We have a young team and most of the players are in their first World Cup," Son said. South Korea has fielded its youngest-ever World Cup team with an average age of just over 26, and only five of the 23 players have previously been on the World Cup squad. Son is the team's youngest player at 21.
"It's true that I felt we needed (an on-field leader)," Son added. "But we can't always have such players. Ultimately, we have to overcome problems on our own. The loss is already in the past and it's important that we get ready for the next one."
|Korean star player Son Heung-min speaks in a press conference in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, Monday. (Yonhap)|
Son scored his team's first goal in the 50th minute. His goal appeared to rejuvenate the listless offense before Algeria went back up by one 12 minutes later.
Son blamed the loss on the team's collective loss of concentration.
"We made mistakes that we never should have," he said. "A game like that should never happen again and hopefully we all learned something from this."
The Bayer Leverkusen winger was named the Man of the Match in South Korea's 1-1 draw with Russia for a solid performance on both ends, even though he didn't score a goal.
Against Algeria, Son scored South Korea's first goal early in the second half to cut the deficit to 3-1 and to instill much-needed life into the listless offense.
South Korea must beat Belgium to have a chance to reach the knockout stage on a tiebreaker with either Russia or Algeria.
Son admitted it was difficult to change the team's mood and morale after just one day. But with such a crucial match on the horizon, he said it was important to forget quickly about Sunday's loss.
"I hope that we don't have such a regrettable game that we had against Algeria," Son said. "I hope we can do everything we've set out to do and we can enjoy ourselves. Then the result will follow.
I know a lot of fans are watching us closely, but I think overcoming pressure is part of being an athlete."
After practice later Monday, team captain Koo Ja-cheol said he feels the burden of responsibility in each match regardless of the result, but wouldn't comment further on the notion that South Korea lacked leadership against Algeria.
Koo said the players may be down but they are not out.
"We need to have the same sort of desperation that we had against Russia," Koo said. "The group stage is not finished yet and there is still hope for us." (Yonhap)