Analysis: South Korea's woes roll on despite win

A strange night in Canberra. After over 15 years of watching football in Asia and then writing about it, it is hard to think of a team that has looked so depressed after winning a game.

Like the Socceroos, South Korea also booked a place in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Asian Cup with a game to spare. Yet, in Canberra on Tuesday evening, after Kuwait had been defeated 1-0, it was all long faces and shaking of heads.

“There are two positives,” said coach Uli Stielike who pulled no punches. “We have six points from two games and we're no longer one of the favourites. We can't win playing football like this.”

How did it come to this? 

Korea has what it wants. There is no real need for a result from the Australia game. At the moment, there is no strong preference for any Group B team as long as it is not North Korea. It is certainly possible that, despite losing to China just once out of the 30 meetings between the two, that Uzbekistan would be better.

That's in the future. A surreal few hours started on Tuesday afternoon with the news that Lee Chung-yong was going home. Some rough tackles in the 1-0 win over Oman resulted in a hairline fracture of the shin that wasn't diagnosed for three days.

Then a bug swept the camp. A few players had a cold on Sunday but on Monday all looked fit to play. Tuesday morning dawned in the Aussie capital with matters taking a turn for the worse. 

Star attacker Son Heung-min couldn't stand up and was sent to hospital, captain until recently Koo Ja-cheol was sent to bed, as was goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyun.

All in all, there were seven changes from the Oman game. It was unlikely to be a classic performance but the first half went pretty well – nothing to get too excited about but there was a great goal from Nam Tae-hee who got on the end of a perfect cross from Cha Du-ri.

Early in the second half, Ki Sung-yeung was in a good position with three attackers in front of him, the English Premier League star lost the ball and then Kuwait attacked with Ali Al Masqeed then hitting the post. Just as three days previously, Korea was looking comfortable, the opposition almost score and then things take a turn for the worse.

But this was worse. Korea was all over the place at the back. Nervous in and out of possession, out of position with no cohesion at all. 

Stielike questioned the players' mentality, claiming that things they do with their eyes closed on the training pitch suddenly become hugely difficult when it really matters. For a national team that has long prided itself on its fighting spirit, this is a worry though has been for some time.

The World Cup and the angry reaction to the failure has obviously had an effect but then these are players who have played in World Cup and Olympic semifinals, won Asian Champions League titles and just a few weeks ago were winning gold at the Asian Games, a competition that was held on home soil and one that there was considerable pressure to win.

Talking to a member of the coaching staff after the game, there is hope that playing Australia is the best thing that can happen. Being the struggling underdog against an in-form host supported by 50,000 home fans in Brisbane, could take some of the pressure off.

Korea will need a little more than that though.