FIFA World Cup 2026: South Korea appoints Hong Myung-bo as coach before third-round qualifiers

South Korea appointed Hong Myung-bo as national team head coach for the second time on Sunday.

Hong succeeds Jurgen Klinsmann and returns to the job he left in July 2014 after a 12-month spell ended in a disappointing World Cup performance.

The 55 year-old was captain of the Korean team that reached the semifinal of the 2002 World Cup and will leave Ulsan HD with immediate effect after leading the club to successive K-League championships in 2022 and 2023.

“Ultimately, the ability to bring the team together is the most important aspect,” Korea Football Association (KFA) President Chung Mong-gyu said. “It will be up to the coaching staff to handle the tactical side of things.”

The appointment marks the end of a five-month search by the KFA, which fired Klinsmann in February following an under-par Asian Cup tournament.

American coach Jesse Marsch was top of the KFA’s shortlist but he took a job with Canada in May. It was reported that David Wagner, the German coach fired by Norwich City after failing to deliver promotion to the English Premier League, and former Greece boss Gus Poyet, were also on the list.

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Hong, who led Korea’s U-23 team to bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, had seemed to rule himself out of the running after a recent K-League game but now has two months to prepare for the start of the third round of 2026 World Cup qualification.

Korea kicks off against the Palestinian team on Sept. 5 and then goes on to face Jordan, Oman, Kuwait and Iraq in Group B.

In Asia’s new qualification format, the top two from all three groups of six teams will confirm their automatic places at the World Cup.

The six teams that finish third and fourth will progress to the fourth round, where there are two more places available.

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