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Gangwon look to improve their play

It has been one of the best weeks in the history of Gangwon Province.

The region doesn’t make many headlines even in its own country but it was catapulted into the global spotlight on Wednesday as the city of PyeongChang was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. Now, soccer fans in the region will be hoping that local K-League club Gangwon FC can use the news to kick-start its season.

PyeongChang had already tried and failed twice to host the spectacle by the time the soccer club was formed in 2009. Now Gangwon FC lies marooned at the bottom of the standings. Perhaps it needs some of that “can-do” PyeongChang spirit. The winter resort came so close to being awarded the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, winning the first round of voting on both occasions but just falling behind Vancouver and Sochi respectively when the votes of eliminated candidates were recounted.

Undeterred, a third bid was planned, a truly national rather than regional bid with the whole country, government and all levels of society behind it. At the forefront of the campaign was 2010 Olympic Gold medal figure skater Kim Yu-na, “The Queen of Korea.”

Gangwon may not have such star power. Instead of Kim Yu-na, it has the “monster” Kim Yong-hu and veteran midfielder Lee Eul-yong and instead of the entire country behind it, there are 15 K-League teams in front.

The statistics are bleak. Fans have seen just one game won out of 16 so far this season and only five goals have been scored. It has not been a happy few months. The form has been so bad that fans may almost be relieved that the escalating match-fixing scandal has occupied media minds for the last few weeks ― otherwise a host of Gangwon FC headlines would have been unavoidable.

There was a mini-flurry just four games into the season. With four defeats and no goals scored, coach Choi Soon-ho resigned. “I am the coach and therefore am the person responsible so I wanted to make a quick decision. I think the club and the fans need a change. I have always talked about producing football of dreams and hope but I have not been able to achieve that as much as I wanted.”

Not much has been achieved since his assistant Kim Sang-ho took control, although the team finally recorded a win in June. Busan defender Lee Jung-ho apparently felt a little sorry for the club, as he scored an own goal to give Gangwon a 1-0 victory.

There was no such charity last weekend and no evidence of the PyeongChang effect as Gangwon lost 2-0 at Gwangju FC, with both goals coming from Lee Sung-ki. It was another depressing day. There is however some good news, though nothing to rival being awarded a major global tournament.

Firstly, the club is one of the few that has not been tainted by the growing match-fixing scandal ― so far at least. That is something to be proud of, though fans may be struggling to see it at the moment. Also, the club has been busy in the just-opened transfer window, signing former international striker Kim Jin-yong as well as Lee Jung-woon. “Kim is a center-forward who can play as a shadow striker or out wide,” said coach Kim. “He is decisive in front of goal and is exactly what he need. Lee fits in to our team nicely and can help us take control of games and start picking up points.”

By John Duerden, Contributing writer  (johnduerden@hotmail.com)
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