Korea may struggle to end its 55-year title drought at the Asian Cup to be held in Australia in January as the Asian Football Confederation announced on Monday that it will not be one of the top seeds.
Korea failed to grab one of the top four seeds after experiencing a huge drop in FIFA's global rankings recently. The country now ranks 60th, making it No. 4 in Asia after Iran (42), Japan (48) and Uzbekistan (55). Australia, which is ranked 63rd, automatically earned the top seed as host.
The four top-seeded teams are grouped in Pot 1, with the next-best four including Korea going to Pot 2. There is a 25 percent chance that Korea will end up in the same group as Japan. In total, there are four pots.
Korea's slide down the rankings has raised alarm bells at home. Just two years ago, when the group draw for the final round of Asian preliminaries for the 2014 World Cup took place, Korea ranked world No. 30, making it the second-highest team in Asia. It has since plummeted 30 spots.
The team struggled during the last round of qualifying for the World Cup under former manager Choi Kang-hee, when it fell to 40th place. After current manager Hong Myung-bo took over, it dropped to 50th in August last year. But losses to Mexico and the U.S. dragged it down another 11 spots to 61st in February. This puts it just one shy of its historically worst 62nd place in February 1996.
Some analysts take heart from the fact that Korea's recent losses came against formidable opponents like Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and the U.S., which Hong organized friendlies with in order to toughen his squad.
They see these games as having provided the players with valuable opportunities to prepare for the World Cup.