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[World Cup] German legend Matthaus expects 'surprises' from Asian teams in Qatar

Former German football star and World Cup ambassador Lothar Matthaus speaks with reporters during a media roundtable during the FIFA World Cup at the Host Country Media Centre in Doha on Monday. (Yonhap)
Former German football star and World Cup ambassador Lothar Matthaus speaks with reporters during a media roundtable during the FIFA World Cup at the Host Country Media Centre in Doha on Monday. (Yonhap)

DOHA -- When South Korea stunned then-defending champions Germany 2-0 in the group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, knocking the European giants out of the tournament, it left a bitter taste in the mouth of many fans in the proud football nation.

Lothar Matthaus, one of football's all-time greats, was no exception.

In a media roundtable on Monday in Doha, with Yonhap News Agency as the only South Korean outlet, Matthaus was asked about that fateful match in 2018.

Before the question was even finished, Matthaus shook his head and said with a wry smile, "No good memory."

But Matthaus, who captained West Germany to the 1990 World Cup title and now works as an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup here, said his country is all about moving forward, and not dwelling on the past.

"This is in the past. It's four years ago. We are looking forward to our games now in Qatar," Matthaus said. "I think we have a good team. We have a good spirit in the team, and a good communication between the coach (Hans Flick) and the players."

Matthaus, who owns the World Cup record with 25 career matches, acknowledged he doesn't follow South Korean football much. Even the name of Son Heung-min, the transcendent South Korean star who spent his formative years in the Bundesliga while Matthaus was a global ambassador there, didn't ring a bell for the 61-year-old.

But Matthaus recalled playing against South Korea at the 1994 World Cup, with his side prevailing 3-2.

"The Korean players are really in the best condition and they have worked very well together," he said. "I know on a good day, they can win against better teams. And I expect surprises from the Asian football teams during the World Cup."

As the ambassador for the Qatar tournament, Matthaus said it was important to "respect" the decision to bring football's showpiece event to a place that isn't a traditional football destination.

"It will show you different culture, different areas, different weather. And football, we saw Sunday (when the tournament kicked off), is the same," he said. "We had the decision as a group to play here for this. We are here now in November, December and not in June, July. This was a decision and now we have to respect the decision and to enjoy the World Cup."

The joy for Matthaus this year is dampened by the absence of his old rival and legend in his own right, Diego Maradona. The Argentine star died almost two years ago to date, Nov. 25, 2020, and Matthaus said the World Cup won't feel the same without him.

"It was always an honor for me to spend time with Diego," Matthaus said. "And the football world and the people are missing him because he was not only a great player, but he was a great person. I had always fun with him and we spent a lot of time together."

Lionel Messi has long been carrying the torch as the next great Argentine star. Messi is now seven matches away from breaking Matthaus' record for most World Cup appearances.

"When somebody can pass my record. I wish it's Messi," Matthaus said.

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