By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) — For many football fans, the match between South Korea and Germany at the 2018 FIFA World Cup looks like a “David versus Goliath” battle.
Germany, currently No. 1 in the FIFA rankings, are the defending champions and are considered one of the favorites to win this year’s World Cup. South Korea, ranked 61st in the world, will make their 10th World Cup appearance, but they’ve reached the knockout stage only two times.
South Korea and Germany will go head-to-head at the 2018 World Cup in Russia in their last match in Group F at Kazan Arena, in Kazan, on June 27. Although history and figures on paper show Germany to be the clear favorites, Stephan Auer, German Ambassador to South Korea, said the four-time World Cup champions will not let their guards down against the Taeguk Warriors.
“Anything can happen in football,” Auer said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Wednesday. “You shouldn’t underestimate South Korea. They’re really the strongest football power in Asia.”
Stephan Auer, German Ambassador to South Korea, holds the German national football team jersey for a photo at the German Embassy in Seoul on May 9, 2018. (Yonhap)
Auer, who first encountered international football with the 1970 World Cup, pointed out that Germany and South Korea have played “very tight” matches in their World Cup meetings, though the Germans have always won. Germany beat South Korea 3-2 in their group match at the 1994 World Cup and collected a 1-0 win in their semifinal showdown at the 2002 World Cup. South Korea defeated Germany 3-1 in a friendly match in 2004.
“I like the way (South Korea) plays,” he said. “They are dedicated and they are very intense. I had mixed feelings when I saw (both teams drawn into the same group).”
There has been speculation that Germany may rest their core members against South Korea to prepare for the knockout stage, the logic being Germany will have clinched a round of 16 berth by the time they face South Korea. Auer said that might not happen considering that Mexico and Sweden, the two other Group F opponents that Germany will face before South Korea, are not easy teams and Germany’s fate could be decided in the last group stage match.
“I don’t necessarily think Germany will get six points from the first two matches because Sweden and Mexico are good teams,” he said. “Then, maybe the last match against South Korea will be decisive.”
This photo taken by the Associated Press on March 22, 2017 shows the German national football team. (Yonhap)
Auer said he hopes Germany and South Korea can advance to the round of 16 together and the best case scenario will be for the two sides to come into their last group match with two wins apiece and to walk away with a draw. The 56-year-old diplomat said he wants to see both countries collect the same result that they did at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
In Brazil, South Korea and Germany played to a 3-3 draw and advanced to the knockout stage together.
“We saw three goals from each side and it was an exciting game,” he said of the latest Olympics. “We wish our South Korean friends qualify for the next round.”
Auer, who came to Seoul in 2016, said he believes South Korea can improve if the players can stick with each other as a team. He added that team spirit and cohesion, what they call “Die Mannschaft” in German, drove Germany to become the top team in the world.
“Germany haven’t got superstars like (Cristiano) Ronaldo or Neymar, though we have good players and staffs,” he said. “You need the whole team to stick together because one superstar alone can’t win the world tournament. I’m sure South Korea will be in position to create that team spirit that we call it ‘Die Mannschaft.’ And it was ‘Die Mannschaft’ that won the World Cup in 2014.”
In this file photo taken on Aug. 7, 2016, South Korea’s Son Heung-min (L) controls the ball against Germany’s Julian Brandt during the Group C match in the men’s football tournament at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in Brazil. (Yonhap)
Auer, a Bayern Munich fan, said it’s going to be “extremely difficult” for Germany to defend their world title as there will be challenges from teams like Brazil, Spain and France.
“Recently, no countries have defended the World Cup and it would be nice to have Germany break that,” he said. “But at this moment, we have some injured players like (Jerome) Boateng and (Manuel) Neuer and they’re the two pillars of our team.”
Auer said he thinks Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Muller and Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos should be the players that the opponents need to watch out for.
“Muller is a player who is very difficult to predict and unconventional, so that makes it quite difficult for opponents to control him,” he said. “Kroos is also a very intelligent player and I think his passes and shooting can decide the matches.”