Monday 23 July 2018

South Korean football squad swapped jerseys in training to confuse Swedish spies

South Korea's squad during training REUTERS/Carlos Barria
South Korea's squad during training REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Nicola Smith

South Korea’s football coach has revealed he used an unusual tactic to outfox opponents in the run-up to high stakes World Cup games in Russia - swapping players jersey numbers to sow confusion about their identities.

“I heard that Western people don’t recognise Asian people’s faces at once, so that was my little trick to confuse the opponents,” Shin Tae-yong told a press conference in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, ahead of South Korea’s high pressure World Cup opening game against Sweden on Monday evening.

Today’s opener is crucial for both teams, who face tougher matches later in their group against Mexico and Germany, and both have deployed creative tactics to get an edge over each other to win.

Mr Shin’s strategy appears to have been in response to a Swedish spy operation at South Korea’s pre-World Cup training camp in Austria earlier this month, when a member of Sweden’s coaching staff attempted to observe their team sessions.

Lars Jacobsson reportedly persuaded a local couple to let him use their house near the training base to conduct surveillance with a high performance telescope and video camera.

“It took a long car journey up the mountains to reach the house, but it was a perfect spot to observe the Korean team’s training,” he said, according to Reuters.

He had earlier been ejected from a closed training drill after failing to convince the Koreans that he was a passing tourist.

Coach Janne Andersson apologised on Sunday, saying: “It is very important we show respect for an opponent and if what we did has been perceived in another way, then we apologise,” he said.

But Mr Shin shrugged the incident off. “You always want to know about the opponent,” he said through a translator. “That’s something that we do as part of the staff. I don’t think that that’s bad. We have to understand our opponents. So that’s part of the job that we do.”

He admitted that jersey-swapping in the warm-up games was brought into play after the team heard reports of the “Swedish spy.”

The South Koreans reportedly counted on the fact that, besides Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, other players in the team, who star in the Asian leagues, are not so well-known worldwide.

“I will not mention our game plans because I want Sweden to think about us until the last minute,” Mr Shin said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

"I think both teams are thinking that tomorrow's match is a must-win," he said. "I know fans in our country are sarcastic, but inside, in their hearts, I believe they're really supporting us to get a win."

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