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Dismissal completes fall from grace for once-revered football coach

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Published : 2017-06-15 15:06
Updated : 2017-06-15 15:14

The firing of Uli Stielike as the South Korea men's football head coach Thursday completed a rather precipitous fall from grace for a man once hailed as "god."

The Korea Football Association made the decision in its technical committee meeting, held barely two days after South Korea lost to Qatar 3-2 in Doha in the final Asian qualification round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Uli Stielike, former head coach of the South Korean men's football team, listens to a reporter's question at Incheon International Airport on June 14, 2017, after arriving from a 3-2 loss to Qatar in a World Cup qualifying match in Doha. (Yonhap)

Stielike, who took over the team in September 2014, was the longest-tenured head coach in the men's national team history. He leaves with a record of 27 wins, five draws and seven losses. South Korea scored 63 goals -- not counting opponents' own goals -- and allowed 25.

After dropping the latest match, South Korea remained stuck at 13 points with four wins, a draw and three losses to stay in second place in Group A. They're barely holding on to the final automatic qualification spot, with Uzbekistan right behind them at 12 points.

Iran have already secured their spot with 20 points. The top two teams from Groups A and B will advance directly to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Two third-place teams must go through a playoffs for their final chance.

South Korea, chasing their ninth consecutive World Cup appearance, will host Iran on Aug. 31 and face Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Sept. 5 to close out the qualifying stage.

In the current qualification stage, South Korea have yet to win a match away from home, with a draw and three losses. The two goals that South Korea scored against Qatar were the first two for the team on the road.

Stielike guided the country to a runner-up finish at the 2015 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup. South Korea had a perfect record in the second round of the World Cup qualification from June 2015 to March 2016, reeling off eight wins while scoring 27 goals and giving up none.

In 2015, South Korea lost just once while picking up 16 wins and three draws, and giving up just three goals all year.

During that run of success, Stielike was hailed by fans as "God-tielike," but the same fans that so revered him have turned their backs on him over some lethargic efforts of late.

The call for Stielike's head further intensified after South Korea fell to China 1-0 on the road and eked out a 1-0 win over Syria at home in March.

The KFA defied the mounting pressure and entrusted Stielike with the rest of the qualification stage, at least, saying it couldn't find a suitable replacement this deep into the tournament.

The KFA instead appointed veteran coach Jung Hae-sung as Stielike's new assistant, hoping to narrow the apparent chasm that existed between the players and their head coach.

Against Qatar, though, South Korea submitted yet another dreadful defensive game. The players were often caught ball-watching and were sloppy with the ball in their own zone.

Despite the two goals scored -- the team's biggest output in an away match in this qualifying round -- South Korea remained winless in four road contests, with one draw and three losses.

The writing was already on the wall by the time Stielike and his team landed home Wednesday evening. Stielike told reporters at Incheon International Airport that he would willingly take the fall for the poor performance and would accept whatever decision the KFA reached, though he fell short of announcing his resignation on the spot.

Moments later, Lee Yong-soo, who resigned Thursday as the KFA's technical director, said he felt it was "time for a change." It was Lee who hired Stielike in 2014. (Yonhap)