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Jordan beats South Korea in Asian Cup semis
02:48 - Source: CNN
Seoul, South Korea CNN  — 

The coach of the South Korean national soccer team has been fired in the wake of a brawl between star player and captain Son Heung-min and midfielder Lee Kang-in before the team’s disastrous Asian Cup exit.

“(Jürgen) Klinsmann has failed to show his competence in managing the game, the players, along with the expected attitudes as a South Korean coach,” Chung Mong-gyu, chairman of the Korean Football Association (KFA) said announcing Klinsmann’s ouster on Friday.

“Klinsmann’s competence and his attitudes do not measure up to the standard of the Korean nationals.”

Anger over Klinsmann’s management of the national team has been heating up in South Korea since its Asian Cup disappointment and news of the altercation between the hugely popular Son and rising star Lee.

Klinsmann, seen here during the Asian Cup semifinal against Jordan, has been sacked as head coach of the <em>Taegeuk Warriors</em>.

Earlier Friday, a KFA official confirmed to CNN that Son, the Tottenham Hotspur superstar and captain, and Lee, who plays club soccer for Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Ligue 1, clashed about playing table tennis before the national team’s 2-0 loss to Jordan in the Asian Cup semifinal on February 6.

“A physical brawl occurred between the Korean national football team players Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in during dinner the day before the Asian Cup semifinal match against Jordan,” an official at the KFA said.

The official added that the KFA could not confirm any further details.

The loss to Jordan, No. 87 in FIFA’s world rankings, was seen as a major embarrassment for the 23rd-ranked South Korean side.

Photographs and video from the day of the Jordan match show Son with two fingers on his right hand strapped together with a white bandage.

Son is seen with two fingers wrapped up during an English Premier League match between Tottenham and Brighton & Hove Albion on February 10.

A statement from Lee’s lawyer Kim Ga-ram said that the player “deeply regrets and reflects on his wrongdoings.”

Kim said in a statement that playing table tennis is a regular activity for the South Korea squad and that local media reports alleging Lee “threw a fist in Son Heung-min’s face when Son Heung-min grabbed the back of Lee Kang-in’s neck” are “not true.”

In an Instagram story, reported by CNN affiliate JTBC, Lee apologized to South Korean fans.

“There was an article about me having a verbal argument with Son ahead of the Asian Cup semifinal,” Lee wrote. “I am very sorry to disappoint football fans who are always supporting the South Korea international team.”

He added that, “I should’ve taken the lead and followed senior players’ instructions, but I am sorry that I showed not nice behavior to football fans.”

“I will try to be a better player and person helping senior and older players from now on,” Lee wrote.

Son has not made any public comment concerning the incident. CNN has reached out to his agency for comments.

On Thursday, a KFA advisory committee recommended the association fire Klinsmann for various reasons including his lack of leadership, not making enough efforts to discover new players, and for not spending enough time in South Korea while taking the job.

Klinsmann seemed to question his team’s resolve after the Jordan loss, saying opponents “wanted it more.”

Then in a video meeting with KFA officials on Thursday, Klinsmann pointed a finger at South Korean players for the disappointing exit from the Asian Cup, according to Hwangbo Kwan, technical director of the KFA.

“Klinsmann himself said the cause of failure lied in the internal conflict,” Kwan told a briefing after the Thursday meeting.

The Korea Football Association office is seen on February 16 in Seoul, South Korea.

Klinsmann had been head coach for less than a year and was under contract through the 2026 World Cup in North America.

“It is hard to expect an improvement from him,” association chairman Chung said Friday. “We, therefore, have decided to replace our leader for the second round of 2026 FIFA World Cup qualification.”

That begins in just over a month for the Taegeuk Warriors when they are scheduled to face Thailand, which sits in second place in Group C behind Korea.

Shortly before his dismissal was announced Friday, Klinsmann went on social media to thank players and fans for their support during his tenure.

“To all players, my coaching staff and all Korean football fans with sincere gratitude! Thank you so much for all your support taking us to the semi-final of the Asian Cup and an incredible journey over the last 12 months with not losing 13 games in a row!” his post on X and Instagram said.

“Keep on fighting,” he added.

This story has been updated with additional developments.