Saudi Arabia v South Korea: Mancini apologises for walking off before shoot-out defeat

Italian believed match had ended when Abdulrahman Ghareeb's spot-kick was saved as Saudis exit Asian Cup in last 16

Saudi Arabia head coach Roberto Mancini said his team have much to improve after exiting the Asian Cup on penalties to South Korea. Getty
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Roberto Mancini apologised for disappearing down the tunnel before Saudi Arabia’s fate was sealed in Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out defeat to South Korea that eliminated his side from the Asian Cup.

Reacting to Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s saved spot-kick, which left South Korea one penalty to progress, Mancini walked back to the dressing room at Education City Stadium.

The Italian therefore missed Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Hwang Hee-chan securing his team’s place in the quarter-finals – an action that quickly led to much criticism for the coach’s behaviour.

However, speaking after the 4-2 penalty loss – Sami Al Najei’s effort was also saved by South Korea goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, Mancini said: "I apologise, I thought it was finished.

"I didn't want to disrespect anyone. I want to say thank you to all my players for what they did. They are improving a lot."

Mancini’s men had come incredibly close to winning the last-16 tie in normal time. The had gone 1-0 up a minute into the second half in Al Rayyan, when substitute Abdullah Radif finished expertly with his second touch of the game.

Saudi Arabia, three-time Asian champions, held on until the final minute of the 10 allotted for stoppage time, when Cho Gue-sung headed home a 99th-minute equaliser to force extra time.

Mancini, who was appointed in August, said: "When you lose a penalty [shoot-out] you are sad because it is difficult, but this is football.

“We have to accept this. I am very happy with my players because they played a very good game against one of the best teams in the world.”

Mancini added: “I am very happy because we improved a lot.

“We worked one month together, and this was really important. Now we are a team. It's clear we have to improve more."

Mancini, 59, was attempting to capture his second major international title as a manager after leading Italy to success in the European Championship in 2021.

Seeking to end a 64-year wait for the trophy, South Korea will meet Australia in the last eight on Friday. Yet the two-time champions have only two days to recover for the clash, when their opponents, title winners in 2015, contested their last-16 encounter with Indonesia on Sunday. They won 4-0.

"That's the reason why I badly wanted to win our group,” South Korea manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Some people said I was happy not to top the group and avoid Japan. We didn't win the group and we've paid the price.

"But this win has given this team more spirit. I enjoy coaching this group and they badly want to do well for their country. We wanted to win before penalties; we didn't count on a shoot-out.

"We will recover because we have a good atmosphere. We're looking forward to Australia. This win tonight gives us a lot of optimism, belief and energy - which we will need to beat Australia."

Updated: January 31, 2024, 7:02 AM