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The #KLeagueFM18 Challenges: The Road to Russia [Episode 3]

K League Football Manager 2018 Challenges: The Road to Russia

After an underwhelming introduction to the international stage, recently appointed Korean National Team manager Matthew Binns now needs to recover from a disappointing defeat and ensure that his K League-only side stays on track to qualify for 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, Episode 2

The loss to China has not gone down well, with fans from across the globe calling for my head despite it only being my second match in charge.

At least they're yet to use the hashtag #PutTheBinnsOut or #RubbishBinns

Their discontent is fair enough, but with the K League only having gone two rounds, the pool of players I had to choose from had hardly been playing. Fortunately there is over sixty days until my next World Cup qualifier against Syria. Lose that, and then perhaps I should start to worry.

With lots of domestic football to take in, I decide to pay particular attention to league leaders Suwon Bluewings and Pohang Steelers, especially with Jeonbuk starting poorly with two back-to-back defeats. I head over to Incheon to witness Suwon take on their Gyeonggi-do rivals in what would prove to be a dominating 4-1 performance. My eyes are quickly drawn to Jang Ho-ik who puts in strong display, covering the most distance on the pitch to win the ball back for his side. I am also particularly impressed with Incheon United youngster Song Si-woo, who bags his side an equaliser before being forced off with an injury so severe, he will not be back in time for the Syria game.

Coincidentally sticking with Incheon United, I then follow them to Pohang to face Pohang Steelers a week later. The underdogs pose plenty of questions of the home side, but are cruelly robbed of three points when Shim Dong-woon, a player I had come to specifically watch, taps in a late equaliser amidst a goal mouth scramble.

The following midweek I also head to Sangam to reluctantly take in FC Seoul's cup tie with non-league Chungju. The capital club are in fine form though, with Go Yo-han and Yun Il-lok tormenting either flank, creating multiple chances for striker Cho Chan-ho, who claims four goals thanks to their efforts. Stunned, I quickly call my assistant to book tickets for Okayama next week as I need to see more of these three in action.

It is somewhat of a wasted journey however, with all three aforementioned players absent from the squad. It turns out their services have only been limited to domestic cup action this season, with zero league appearances, something basic research should have flagged up but I was too busy perusing day trips to Okayama Castle . Not that I mind however, as I have bagged myself a free holiday out of it. I sit and endure a 0-0, noting down only Ju Se-jong's name, before sneaking out with half an hour to go and hole up a nearby drinking spot, watching the final minutes on a TV behind the bar and trying the local tipple.

I wake up late the following morning, somewhat worse for wear, with a barrage of emails to wade through. Whilst I make an effort with the first few, the urge to vomit overwhelms and I just opt to answer all in the affirmative. Gingerly making my way back from the bathroom, it seems I have accepted a friendly request from Bosnia and Herzegovina four days after the Syria game, away from home. I suppose it's not exactly a problem as I will have to brave stronger opposition at some point with my band of K League stalwarts.

With thirty days remaining, I start putting together the initial squad selection for the Syria game, mainly so I can narrow down some of the many games I am required to scout to just the players who are performing well in the league. I start by removing players from my previous squad. Joo Min-kyu and Lee Dong-gook are removed due to poor form and lack of playing time, but I refrain from culling too many when I take a glance at the injury list.

Despite there being a whole month to go, six members of my previous squad are currently receiving treatment for long term injuries. Goalkeepers Cho Hyun-woo and Shin Hwa-yong, defenders Koo Ja-ryeong and Shin Hwe-yong, and forwards Yang Dong-hyun and Lee Jong-ho will all be unavailable for selection against Syria.

Replacing them, I opt for Jeonbuk's Lee Seung-gi and Kim Min-jae due to the current hype surrounding the players' recent form. I also opt for Seoul midfielder Song Jin-hyun, Sangju's Kim Ho-nam and also veteran Seoul defender Kwak Tae-hwi. In goal, with Pohang's Kang Hyun-moo also suffering from injury, I opt for clean sheets, with Seoul's Yoo Hyun surprisingly topping the list. A scout also recommends I offer Kim Young-kwan (aka 'Glory') a recall, giving me the following provisional squad list.

Intended Korea Team To Face Syria
GKHong Jung-namJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
GKKim Young-kwanSeoul E-Land
GKYoo HyunFC Seoul
DCChoi Chul-soonJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKim Jin-suJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKim Min-jaeJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKwak Tae-hwiFC Seoul
DCLee YongJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCOh Ban-sukJeju United
DCShin Kwang-hoonFC Seoul
MFHa Dae-sungFC Seoul
MFJu Se-jongFC Seoul
MFKim Han-gilFC Seoul
MFKim Min-wooSuwon Bluewings
MFLee Jae-sungJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
MFLee Myung-jooFC Seoul
MFLee Seung-giJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
MFSong Jin-hyungFC Seoul
MFYeom Ki-hoonSuwon Bluewings
MFYoon Bit-garamJeju United
FWKim Ho-namSangju Sangmu
FWKim Shin-wookJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
FWLee Keun-hoGangwon FC

However, the weeks leading up to the fixture see further long term injuries to players I have selected, ultimately resulting in the withdrawal of Shin Kwang-hoon, Yoon Bit-garam, Kim Han-gil, Kim Ho-nam and Lee Myung-joo. These injuries and those previously do include a suspiciously large number of FC Seoul players, leading me to think that their manager Hwang Sun-hong is either not playing ball, or my professed affection for Jeonbuk is working against me. I quickly file through the scout reports I've accumulated throughout the year though and make phone calls to Suwon's Jang Ho-ik, FC Seoul substitute Yun Il-lok, Jeonnam's Han Chan-hee and, to the fans' annoyance but my satisfaction, Lee Dong-gook for that (hopefully) useful experience. The final squad is as follows.

Finalised Korea Team To Face Syria
GKHong Jung-namJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
GKKim Young-kwanSeoul E-Land
GKYoo HyunFC Seoul
DCChoi Chul-soonJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKim Jin-suJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKim Min-jaeJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKwak Tae-hwiFC Seoul
DCLee YongJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCOh Ban-sukJeju United
DCJang Ho-ikSuwon Bluewings
MFHa Dae-sungFC Seoul
MFJu Se-jongFC Seoul
MFKim Min-wooSuwon Bluewings
MFLee Jae-sungJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
MFLee Seung-giJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
MFSong Jin-hyungFC Seoul
MFYeom Ki-hoonSuwon Bluewings
MFYoon Bit-garamJeju United
MFYun Il-lokFC Seoul
MFHan Chan-heeJeonnam Dragons
FWLee Dong-gookJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
FWKim Shin-wookJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
FWLee Keun-hoGangwon FC

I had considered toying with my formation, but eventually decided to keep it after seeing it as one of the popular shapes at the clubs presently leading the K League. Given how little time I have to work with these players, it is probably not wise to make too drastic of a change from what they are used to.

My plan is to place Kim Shin-wook at the top of a 4-2-3-1 in a bid to win the ball in the air, with Kim Min-woo, Lee Seung-gi and Lee Keun-ho operating behind him, hopefully picking up the second ball and thwacking it goalwards. Captain Lee Jae-sung has been moved back into central midfield as a deep lying playmaker alongside Ha Dae-sung. The back line consists again of mostly Jeonbuk players, with Kim Jin-su, Kim Min-jae and Lee Yong all featuring alongside Jeju centre back Oh Ban-suk. In goal, I have also opted for the Jeonbuk goalkeeper Hong Jung-nam. In total, there are seven Jeonbuk players in my starting eleven plus Lee Dong-gook watching on from the bench. Hopefully nobody will accuse me of bias.

We start surprisingly well, with long range shots from Ha Dae-sung giving the Syrian goalkeeper food for thought. It isn't too long though before we break their resolve, with play being switched out left on twelve minutes to Kim Min-woo, who then returns the favour by crossing in to Lee Keun-ho to tap in at the far post.

One minute later though, and an Aosman corner is nodded down and poked in by Hawwai. It is against the run of play and threatens to take the wind out of our sails, buy fortunately I have the Wookie. A fingertip save to deny Lee Sung-gi results in a corner that is met on the edge of the area by Ha Dae-sung who manages to pick out Kim Shin-wook to cooly tap home. 2-1.

In the 38th minute, centre back Oh ban-suk extends our lead. There is initially some confusion between him and The Wookie over who should strike the ball in the penalty box, but the Jeju defender eventually took the initiative to lash in the shot. An overlapping run moments later by Lee Yong allowed the right back to pick out Kim Min-woo at the far post to make it 4-1 before half time. We are flying.

Not much needs to be said over half time and, despite a disallowed goal from Oh Ban-suk we spend the next half an hour cruising. The Wookie eventually pops up to put the icing on the cake with a curling shot from the edge of the area to make it five goals to one, leaving the home fans in rapturous praise of the towering goliath.

There are no goals for the rest of the match, but 5-1 will work very well for the Naver headlines and will keep the likes of Steve Price and other writers off my back for another round of games. Elsewhere Iran and Uzbekistan win, meaning I need one point from the next two matches to qualify for next year's World Cup.

I decide to stick with a winning formula and make no changes to the team to face Bosnia and Herzegovina. Seeing as I had not really anticipated playing this friendly in the first place, I am going to put little effort into preparing for it, with the hope of increasing cohesion between the starting eleven ahead of more important fixtures.

We lose 2-0 with little to complain about. Whilst I could point to a number of spurned chances by the likes of Lee Keun-ho and Lee Seung-gi, we are just nowhere near good enough to go toe-to-toe with a standard European side and will probably need to revert back to the player-hacking tactics that we deployed against Iran if we are going to sneak any points at the World Cup. Goals came from Edin Dzeko on the counter, and Edin Visca after dispossessing The Wookie at a corner.

Despite Kim Shin-wook's carelessness, it is Oh Ban-suk who is singled out by my assistant manager Lee Young-ik after the game for underperforming. This is not the first time he has turned in a poor display under my regime, and perhaps I need to start considering some different names ahead of our final qualifying matches to Uzbekistan and Qatar, especially as we now look almost certain to qualify.

However, it would take something truly special to cock this up now...

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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