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The #KLeagueFM18 Challenges: The Road to Russia [Episode 2]

K League Football Manager 2018: The Road to Russia

With the announcement of his first K League only national squad, recently appointed manager Matthew Binns must now prove his detractors wrong by claiming results against Iran and China in his quest to guide the Republic of Korea to the World Cup

The Challenge: The Road to Russia! Lead the Korean team to the 2018 World Cup and then put in a respectable performance. However, only players plying their trade in the K League can be called upon to represent their country.

Previous Instalments: Episode 1

It's two days before my first game in management and news reaches me that Korea are already two positions higher in the FIFA world rankings than when we started the year. Results elsewhere around the globe have seen us move up to the 34th best team in the world. If I can continue like this we should be breaking the upper echelons of the global elite in no time.

The national team camp has already been underway for a few days now and things seem to be going relatively smoothly. My team introduction only seemed to annoy Suwon's Yeom Ki-hoon who, somewhat understandably, doubts my ability as a manager, but I don't intend to start him anyway. I also appoint Jeonbuk's Lee Jae-sung as the new national team captain as he is possibly the most skilled played in the side now that the likes of Son Heung-min and Kwon Chang-hoon have been thrown out. Reaction to the captaincy is surprisingly positive though, so it is good to see I have done something right in these early days.

With Iran perhaps being the toughest opposition in the group, I think it is wise to switch to something more defensive rather than the 4-2-3-1 initially envisaged. I decide to switch to a 4-1-4-1 with specific instructions to give the opposition little time on the ball. In the team briefing I also tell the lads to quit any of the fancy stuff and stay disciplined. A draw here would not be the worse result whilst I am still finding my feet.

I opt for Kim "The Wookie" Shin-wook to play on his own up top with the idea of him holding up any clearance forward until reinforcements arrive. However, it must be reiterated that my primary aim is to hack everyone until I have established what areas I can probe and/or have sent a couple of their players off on a stretcher. It's not a style I like to play, but with no friendlies or real idea of what squad will work, keeping things the same at the top of the group would be just fine for now.

After mumbling my way through the national anthem, we take our seats in the cavernous stadium for a master class in dull, eye-gauging football. Both teams sit back and wait for the other to come forward, rarely probing in case of error. The first half conjures up just two, off target shots, for both sides with little room for optimism that this will get better.

Not that I really want it to, although I too am getting restless on the sidelines enduring mindless small talk from my assistant. It seems their left back is having some difficult so I suggest to Lee Keun-ho to try and exploit the potential weakness and try and get an early cross in to feed The Wookie.

The only issue with this ploy is that Lee Keun-ho is having a stinker of a game. I have to remove him around the hour mark but, in doing so, realise the flaw with my squad; there is only one other player capable of playing on the right wing. Lee Jong-ho was selected for his attacking prowess, but now he is warming up to play uncomfortably on the flank. Quite the oversight on my part, but I give him a chance and hope for the best.

It doesn't, and Iran start exploiting our right flank but our defence holds strong. We admittedly edge the nil-nil in the end after a few late scares, but I will gladly take it. The China game should give me more room to experiment.

Run up to the China game is mixed. The fans are a bit concerned about the lack of attack against Iran but the general consensus does seem to be that I have done well to get a point in my first match. However, it seems that more will be demanded from me as we travel back to Seoul to play host to China.

My scouts do not seem too informed about what exactly I will be up against. I am told that China have the worst home form in the group. I respond by pointing out that we are playing in Korea and that nugget of information is effectively useless. Silence falls in the first class cabin. The scouting team then sheepishly point out that they will also likely play a 4-4-2. That's all I needed to here. I intend to overrun the midfield and take control of proceedings early on.

I make a number of changes to the lineup from the Iran game, most notably handing Joo Min-kyu his first international cap and start as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. In central midfield, I have opted for two defensive midfielders in Shin Hyung-min and Lee Myung-joo to break up any ideas China may have about attacking us, whilst captain Lee Jae-sung has been moved to behind the striker, where I hope he will prove more effective.

If only things were that simple. Phased by the occasion, we find ourselves a goal down with less than a minute on the clock. Lee Keun-ho, clearly not aware that proceedings had begun, offers Hu Qian plenty of time to line up a cross into Gan Shaobo, drawing in Koo Ja-ryong who leaves plenty of space for Feng Zongwei. Gan slides the ball through to Feng and keeper Cho Hyun-woo is beaten at the near post. Sangam is silenced.

Admittedly, the goal does kick us somewhat into gear We start to create numerous opportunities but are unable to get them on target. The mess is also being compounded by China reverting to a defensive formation. They fail to have another shot for the second half, sitting back and stifling our attack.

I decide to make a change at half time, taking off one of defensive midfielders in Shin Hyung-min and moving Lee Jae-sung in to replace him. Joo Min-kyu shuffles back into an attacking midfield role and I decide to field Lee Dong-gook with the hope of him "winning" a penalty.

Yet still, nothing is clicking. We are relentless in our attacks yet everything we try tends to often be aimed away from the goal mouth. Lee Keun-ho eventually heads a shot at the target in the 56th minute, but it is straight at the keeper, with Lee pulling up injured moments after. Makeshift right winger Lee Jong-ho comes on in his place and we maintain our onslaught.

With the support beginning to get restless, I make a bold move in the 75th minute to try and rectify this situation we are in. Centre back Koo Ja-ryong is hauled off with striker Yang Dong-hyun coming on to replace him. The shape changes to a 3-2-3-2 in a bid to try and accommodate everyone, but still no joy.

Then, with two minutes of time remaining, there is a breakthrough. Captain Lee Jae-sung in central midfield takes control of the ball whilst those around him push forward. He seeks out his intended target but, in doing so, he allows himself to be disposed by Feng Zongwei who runs through on goal unopposed. The defence chases him but it is no use as he calmly slots his shot beyond Cho Hyun-woo and earns China a shock victory in Seoul.

The reception I receive after the match is lukewarm at best, with many journalists questioning why I did not think to field The Wookie given his height advantage. None of them had clearly watched him struggle in the Iran game but perhaps there was point to be taken in there somewhere.

The team seem to still have faith in me surprisingly, well all except the ever-whining Yeom Ki-hun. The national team camp comes to an end and they are sent back to their clubs ahead of the weekend fixtures.

With seventy six days until my next fixtures against Syria, there needs to be some reassessment and actual thought put into my next squad. Hopefully, with the league finally commencing again, it should be easier to sort through the dross, see who is in form and pick a team capable of qualifying for the World Cup.


Fancy trying your own #KLeagueFM18 adventure? See what ten K League specific challenges we suggest and register your best efforts by clicking here.

This piece draws it's form and inspiration from the FMProject by The Set Pieces. You can read their latest series here.

Gaming on K League United is proudly sponsored by Retro Gaming Bar in Hongdae, Seoul. Make sure you follow them on Facebook and Twitter

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