Asian Cup: Roberto Mancini says huge Saudi Arabia support can make difference

Italian coach expecting loud backing in Qatar as they take on Jurgen Klinsmann's South Korea in last-16 clash

Saudi Arabia's Italian coach Roberto Mancini gestures to his players from the touchline during their draw against Thailand. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Roberto Mancini believes Saudi Arabia's overwhelming numerical advantage in the stands will give them the edge in their Asian Cup last-16 clash with South Korea on Tuesday.

Saudi supporters are expected to turn out in force for the match at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, evoking memories of the 2022 World Cup when the Green Falcons were one of the tournament's best-supported sides.

Mancini believes his team are improving with every game but knows they will have to be at their best against one of the pre-tournament favourites. His side are unbeaten so far in Qatar, winning two and drawing one of their three group games.

"We are happy because we will have 12 players on the pitch, our supporters will really push us, and you know now is a different time from [previous] matches against Korea," said Mancini, dismissing a 1-0 friendly defeat when the two sides met at Newcastle United's St James's Park last September.

"I am sure we will do a very good job and it will be a very good game. I think that in these four months [since being appointed] we improved a lot as a team, and it is very important we play as a team and not alone, because alone is difficult to stop their striker and offensive players. They are very good players but if we play as a team then we can do it."

In contrast to Saudi Arabia's fairly routine passage to the knockout stages, South Korea's path has been a chaotic one. A 3-1 win over Bahrain got things off to a positive start, but they looked disorganised and vulnerable in a 2-2 draw with Jordan, and especially in a 3-3 draw with rank outsiders Malaysia. Those two results left them second in their group behind Bahrain and on a collision course with Saudi Arabia.

Mancini said: "My opinion is that South Korea is a very good team. If they conceded six goals in the group stage it doesn't change their strength, because they have very good players and they score a lot of goals. But if they are conceding [a lot of goals] then we know that if we attack we can have a chance to score.

"We know that in the last 16 we play against one of the best teams in the tournament," he added. "Not only a good attack but the whole team is good, with experience and quality, all of the players, more or less, play in Europe.

"For us it is very important to play as a team, like I said before, we improved a lot in the past months, we are [feeling] positive."

That was a sentiment echoed by Mancini's opposite number, the increasingly under-fire Jurgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann and his players have faced fierce criticism back home, with the German legend being mocked for telling reporters to book their hotels in Qatar until February 10 – the day of the final.

"A coach has to be positive, a coach has to believe in his team and make it happen," the 59-year-old Klinsmann, a World Cup winner as a player, said on Monday.

"If the other team is better and beats you, then you can still go back to the hotel and cancel."

Klinsmann, a former Inter Milan player, faced Mancini several times in his career and said he could see the Italian's "handwriting" on the Saudi team, predicting the tie could go all the way to penalties.

"We have the belief that we can beat Saudi Arabia but it will be a lot of work," said Klinsmann. "It will be a nail-biter. It might go into a penalty shootout."

Updated: January 29, 2024, 1:21 PM