South Korean race claims and Swedish 'spying' dominates World Cup 2018 build-up in Nizhny Novgorod
Bizarre series of events includes Sweden scout trying and failing to sneak into closed training session before hiding in local couple’s home
South Korea’s coach Shin Tae-yong said Sunday he deliberately made his team wear different numbered shirts in recent friendlies to confuse World Cup opponents who cannot tell his players apart.
He said all but star player Son Heung-min and captain Ki Sung-yueng were given different shirts in games against Bolivia and Senegal in Austria earlier this month to outwit anyone checking up on his team.
The astonishing claim came just 24 hours before his side open their World Cup campaign against Sweden, a seemingly tame encounter which has been spiced up by claims of spying as well as the Korean coach’s shirt subterfuge.
In his press conference, Swedish coach Janne Andersson was forced to apologise after it was claimed one of his scouts had been caught spying on Monday’s opponents at a closed training session in Austria.
But the claim by his Korean opposite number added an extra layer of intrigue to the group F clash.
“All of the others played in numbers a little bit confusing, that’s why we switched the numbers,” Shin Tae-yong told reporters.
“It’s very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians, that’s why we did that.”
The plan may have backfired on the Koreans though as they lost to Senegal 2-0, and drew with Bolivia 0-0 in their final warm-up games for Russia.
Asked about claims that Sweden had spied on his team, Shin Tae-yong was calm, saying: “I don’t think that’s bad”, adding that all teams needed to know about their opponents.
There have been counterclaims that the Koreans also spied on the Swedes in the run-up to Russia.
The row centres on Swedish scout Lasse Jacobsson who reportedly covertly watching the Koreans prepare for the World Cup.
Jacobsson had apparently rented a house in the town of Leogang, near Salzburg to ‘spy’ on Sweden’s first opponents.
“He heard about a practice session, he didn’t understand that it was a closed session, he didn’t understand and he watched from a distance,” said Andersson, attempting to play down the incident.
“It’s very important we show respect to all our opponents in all circumstances … if someone could interpret it in another way we regret it.”
He added: “It’s been made a mountain out of a molehill.”
The claims reflect the growing realisation for both teams that Monday’s match is vital as they have been drawn against world champions Germany and Mexico in a tough-looking group.
Andersson also said he had a full squad of players to choose from and pretty much knew which team he would pick, but refused to reveal more details.
Skipper Andreas Granqvist said at the same press conference that the players could not wait to start the match.
“I am really looking forward to this World Cup, we are raring to go, all of us,” he said.
“We are looking forward to the match … we have had excellent preparations.”