South Korea manager Shin Tae-yong devised something of a creative solution after discovering that scouts from the Sweden camp had apparently been spying on his training sessions ahead of the two nations’ World Cup opener Monday. He had his players switch jersey numbers.
“We switched them around because we didn’t want to show everything and to try and confuse them,” said Shin to Reuters. “They might know a few of our players but it is very difficult for westerners to distinguish between Asians and that’s why we did it,” he added wryly.
It sounds funny, but there might be something to it. Not the part about westerners not being able to distinguish Asians.
But it is true that apart from Tottenham Hotspur superstar, Son Heung-min, most of South Korea’s team play in Asian leagues, where they are less likely to be recognizable to European coaches or scouts.
The alleged spying incident in question involved Lars Jacobsson, a member of Sweden’s coaching staff who apparently tried to pass himself off as a curious tourist in order to gain entry into one of South Korea’s closed-door training sessions in Austria. The ruse was unsuccessful and Jacobsson was asked to leave.
He then set up camp in a house overlooking the training facility and observed the training sessions using a high-powered telescope and a video camera with a telescopic lens. The house reportedly belonged to a local couple who allowed Jacobsson to use it as a base for his soccer-related espionage.
“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,” Jacobsson was quoted as saying.
Sweden’s head coach, Janne Andersson, apologized for his part in the spying flap that’s erupted on the eve of Monday’s Group F clash between the two sides.
“It is very important we show respect for an opponent and if what we did has been perceived in another way, then we apologize,” said the coach who until taking over the national team in 2016, spent his career managing teams in the Swedish top-flight division.
“This is something small that has been turned into something much bigger because usually our information about our opponents comes from us watching them play matches.”
Andersson’s counterpart, Shin, a former star for the national team as a player who rose up the ranks after coaching South Korea’s youth teams, seemed to take the whole thing in stride.
“All coaches probably feel their opponent are always spying on them,” said Shin. “I think it’s perfectly natural that we all try to get as much information on each other as we can.”
With Sweden and South Korea both attempting to fight their way out of a competitive Group F headlined by the defending champions, Germany, and the red-hot Mexico team it lost to today, perhaps you can’t blame either manager for trying to find any possible edge available to them.
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