SEOUL • South Korea axed coach Uli Stielike yesterday after a shock defeat by Qatar left their chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia hanging in the balance.
Germany's Stielike, who has been in charge since 2014, paid the price for a poor run of results, including qualifying defeats by China and Iran.
Tuesday's 2-3 loss was South Korea's first loss to Qatar in 32 years. Lee Yong Soo, chairman of the Korean Football Association (KFA), also resigned in a shake-up ahead of South Korea's final two qualifying games.
"As the results of the final World Cup qualification round did not meet our expectation, the KFA and coach Stielike decided to end Stielike's contract under mutual agreement," said Lee, after a meeting in Seoul.
"We spoke with Stielike and notified him before the press conference. Stielike said that he respects any decision reached by the technical committee."
Lee said Stielike would probably be replaced by a South Korean coach, explaining time was too short for a foreigner to get to know the team before next year's World Cup.
"The most important task for the next coach will be to boost the players' morale and building up a new team. We only have a year until the Russia World Cup but that is enough time to build up a new team," he added.
Uli Stielike's win percentage in his 37 matches in charge of South Korea.
Stielike, 62, was appointed in September 2014 on a four-year contract, after South Korea had been pelted with toffees, a Korean insult, when they returned winless from the World Cup in Brazil.
Months later, he led them to the Asian Cup final - without conceding a single goal en route - before they were beaten 2-1 by hosts Australia in Sydney.
But trouble set in during Asia's final round of World Cup qualifiers, especially when they lost 0-1 to China in March - only their second loss to the Chinese in 32 games.
It was widely expected that Stielike would be sacked after Tuesday's loss to Qatar, which left South Korea clinging to the second automatic qualifying spot in Group A with two games to go.
South Korea are seeking to qualify for their ninth consecutive World Cup, a run which includes reaching the semi-finals on home soil in 2002.
They remain second in Group A, seven points behind already-qualified Iran but just one ahead of third-placed Uzbekistan. South Korea play Iran and then Uzbekistan in their final two games.
Only the top two in each of Groups A and B qualify automatically for Russia, with the third-placed teams going into play-offs.
The KFA has not decided who will take over as coach for the final two qualifiers.
South Korean media have speculated about possible replacements including Huh Jung Moo, who led the team to the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup, and Under-20 coach Shin Tae Young.
The KFA added that the team's star forward, Son Heung Min of Tottenham, will have surgery this week after breaking his right arm during the defeat by Qatar.
"He had his right forearm fractured and will undergo surgery by the end of the week," Lee Jae Chul, a spokesman for the KFA told AFP, adding that it expects it will take about four weeks for him to recover.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS