So, last time, I qualified for the World Cup, and now the draw was made. Contrary to reality, the draw was done with four groups, one for 1st seeds, one for 2nd seeds, one for 3rd seeds and one for 4th seeds. One seed was then drawn from each group to form the draw. As I was ranked #5, I was in the first seeds.
Here is the complete Group Stage draw!
I was fairly happy with my draw, I think I had some of the weakest nations, in my group. So all was good! A few days later, there was another draw, this time for Euro 2012 qualification. There would again be 7 groups, two of 8, and five of 7. Here was my draw:
That doesn't look difficult at all on paper. Finland are the only nation in the list to qualify for the World Cup, and they aren't too strong. Switzerland and Norway are not as bad as I could have drawn (France were in that pot), so I'll settle for that.
I then had my fixtures for that campaign scheduled for me, and arranged friendlies around each match against teams like Uruguay, Hungary, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Coming up, I had two friendlies against Ukraine and Serbia away. I didn't want to do too much to change the squad or team, I wanted some continuity going in to the World Cup.
Against Ukraine, things started well. I was in complete control for the first 10 minutes, but then Ukraine began to take control. Schevchenko scored in the dying seconds of the half. I tried to be more attacking - perhaps too attacking - in the second half, and Milesky scored with twenty minutes to go. Ukraine 2 England 0. My first loss with England.
A month passed, and this time it was Serbia away. Serbia are stronger than Ukraine on paper, so things looked bad. You'll have heard of Vidic and Kezman, both were in the Serbian team. However, they offered very little, and Robinson played quite well. Rooney gave England a 1-0 lead after 18 minutes, and Michael Johnson scored at the death to give England a 2-0 win. Much better.
The next three months saw very little in the way of action. No England games, but the domestic scene was thriving. I paid attention to England of course, and Manchester United won the Premier League at a canter. All of the "Big 4" were out of the FA Cup by the Semi Finals, and Derby County won it! In this sim of the game, they were relegated in 2008, promoted in 2009, and were 15th in 2010, and they won the FA Cup!
My next task was to select a squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
I had to trim my usual 26 to 23, so here's who I went for:
G Paul Robinson
LB Ashley Cole
CB John Terry
CB Rio Ferdinand
RB Gary Neville (c)
LM Stuart Downing
CM Frank Lampard
CM Steven Gerrard
RM Shaun Wright-Phillips
CF Michael Owen
CF Wayne Rooney
S1 David James
S2 Leighton Baines
S3 Micah Richards
S4 Ledley King
S5 Michael Johnson
S6 Ashley Young
S7 David Beckham
S8 Andy Carroll
S9 Jermaine Defoe
S10 Dean Ashton
S11 Scott Carson
I was forced to pick Young, because nobody else could play on the left of midfield! This would be end of the careers of Neville and Beckham, I thought, both being 35. I thought my side had a good blend of experience and youth. Owen, Beckham, and Neville all have more than 100 caps. Johnson, Young and Carroll are very much up and coming.
So, I was in a strong state of mind going into the World Cup. The FA said their minimum expectations of me were to reach the Quarter Finals of the World Cup. I thought that was a fair aim.
Into the World Cup we go! My first match was against Nigeria. They had John Utaka, Danny Shittu and Nwankwo Kanu. I thought it was a game I could win. Things started well. Gerrard scored his 20th goal for England in the 11th minute. He then had a goal disallowed. A good cross into the middle saw Terry head home after an hour, 2-0 to England. Things were going well! But then, everything went wrong. The refereeing was ridiculous, there were yellow cards being given out for everything, it seemed. With the game won, I decided to reduce the tackling meter. Lampard then sloppily gave the ball away, and it ended with John Utaka reducing Nigeria's arrears to 2-1. 15 minutes to play. Worried I had relaxed the players too much, I put the bar back up. Five minutes later, Gerrard was booked for a second time. Down to 10 men. From then on, Nigeria applied little pressure, and I ran out the 2-1 winner. A good start, but Gerrard would be a big loss.
Bulgaria had beaten Saudi Arabia in the other match, and Bulgaria would be my next opponents. Other than Dimitar Berbatov, they had very little to worry me. They played incredibly defensively, playing for a draw, and noticing this, I decided to be more attacking. Sadly, we couldn't get a goal. In the 91st minute, they had a harmless free-kick, 35 yards out. Every Bulgarian was behind the ball! Petrov kicked it into the wall, and it deflected past Robinson who had dived the other way. 1-0 Bulgaria. England lost.
That was a really bad result. Now, even if I beat Saudi Arabia, if Nigeria beat Bulgaria, I'd be out of the tournament. I had to try to beat Saudi Arabia well. Then, there were two further bombshells. Terry Venables retired. In the middle of a World Cup! So, I needed a new Assistant Manager before the Saudi Arabia game. I tried to sign a World Class scout, because the Assistant is basically scouting the players. Astonishingly, anyone I made an offer to declined! I then went to Portsmouth, and saw Tony Adams, an England cult hero who spent most of his career at Arsenal. He was Portsmouth's Assistant Manager. The next day, he was England's too. Concerning turn of events. Then, I received a job offer. QPR had been promoted from League 1 the previous year, and I had to decide whether I wanted to join them. I couldn't leave in the middle of a World Cup. But if I didn't make the Quarter Finals (looking unlikely), I'd get the sack. Happily, I decided to delay my decision, leaving it until after the World Cup. That way, if I was fired from England, I had a backup job. That wasn't all of the news. Michael Owen was badly injured against Bulgaria, and would miss the rest of the tournament. I couldn't call for a replacement for the squad, but I had to pick a replacement for the rest of the matches from my squad. I went for Andy Carroll, based on his potential.
My next match was the decider against Saudi Arabia. Tony Adams said that they were weak in the air, so I set the play to be more arial, trying to attack that way. It worked perfectly. After half an hour, Rooney scored. Gerrard and Lampard added goals in the second half for a 3-0 win. In total, I had four other goals disallowed! 3-0 was enough to qualify, but not enough to win the group. Nigeria had indeed beaten Bulgaria, and on goal difference, Nigeria topped the group from England and then Bulgaria. Saudi Arabia lost all of their matches. I was through to the last 16!
That is the last 16 draw. I was delighted to draw the United States! I reckoned I could beat them - I have once already - although the prospect of Brazil or Germany in the Quarter Finals was concerning! The bottom quarter was ridiculous!
Anyway, my match was against the United States. I kept my tactics from the Saudi Arabia match, and they worked again! The US defence was poor at first. Rooney scored from 30 yards in the third minute, a curling drive that gave Howard no chance. The United States then substituted one of their strikers for some reason. Altidore came off for Feilhaber. Twenty minutes later, and a headed goal from Carroll, his first of the World Cup. 2-0 England! Then, Johnson scored his 60th goal for the United States, and it was 2-1. A poor quality goal, it was Feilhaber's freekick that he deflected in. It proved to be only a blip, three minutes later, another goal from Carroll made it 3-1. It looked like I wasn't going to get fired! It was then a matter of coasting to victory. 3-1 England, and I was into the Quarter Finals!
The Quarter Finals, and the Germans! I had deleted fake.inc before I started the game, which means the German side actually has real players in it, not some made up ones. For those who don't know, Germany and England have a historic rivalry, dating back to the war. England beat West Germany 4-2 in the 1966 World Cup Final, then led 2-0 against them in the 1970 Quarter Final. England lost 3-2 after extra time. England were in the Semi Finals in 1990, but England again lost to the West Germans on penalties. Another recent match in this rivalry saw England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich during qualification in 2001.
However, I had a problem. Steven Gerrard had a gashed head, and would not be fit in time for the German match. Instead, Michael Johnson took his place alongside Frank Lampard in the centre of midfield. Further doom came from an unnamed ex-player, who said he saw little chance of England pulling off a surprise. I stuck to the tactics that I used against the USA and Saudi Arabia, and plundered on.
Things did not start well. An error from Terry gifted the ball to Klose, who played Kuranyi through. 1-0 Germany. 31 seconds on the clock. But England responded magnificantly. A cross from Downing was met by Carroll, who headed home past Timo Hildebrand, and it was 1-1 after just 3 minutes! Five minutes later, and Rooney shot from the edge of the area. 2-1 England! It was far too early to start defending, so on the game went. England appeared in control of the ball. After half an hour later, another goal, this time a shot from Carroll, and it was 3-1 England! But never write off the Germans! They created chance after chance, and eventually Klose scored to pull it back to 3-2 at half time. An exciting first half!
The second half was a different story. England controlled the ball, and created a few chances. So did the Germans, but generally England were on top. Little happened until the dying moments, when Germany switched to a 4-2-4 formation. I switched to 5-3-1-1. On the counter attack, Lampard played in Rooney, who scored, to make it 4-2. England were home and dry!
Italy was a tough Semi Final. Gerrard was still injured, but would be fit for the Final if I made it. I again stuck with the same tactics. I've written down the highlights of all of the games, but I've written nothing down for this one. That's because not a lot happened. Both sides had chances, England had the better ones, but neither side could score. With moments left, I made substitutions to bring on my best penalty takers. I brought on Ashton, rated 18 (out of 20) to take one. I couldn't bring on Gerrard or Beckham, two other takers. I therefore had to pick Ashton, Lampard, Cole, Terry and Carrick. I knew Buffon would be better than Robinson in goal, but I was hopeful, Robinson had been incredible during the game to keep it at 0-0.
Italy didn't miss a shot, and Buffon was a hero. They won, 4-2 on penalties. It was disappointing, because I didn't think Italy were that good a team.
Third place was surely a formality though? Australia had come from the easiest quarter of the draw, and their only decent win (in my opinion) was against the Czech Republic. I wanted to finish third, but I also realised this was fairly unimportant. Coincidentally, David Beckham was tied with Peter Shilton on 125 caps as England's most capped player of all-time. So, I picked him to start on the right wing, so that he could break the record. I missed John Terry and Michael Owen still through injury, and also Frank Lampard through suspension. Still, I was better than the Aussies on paper.
Things went well. Sticking to the tactics, Rooney scored after just three minutes. Carroll added a goal after 33 minutes, and Rooney had scored again to make it 3-0 at half-time. The game was won, and I coasted to victory, and third place.
I was chuffed the next day, when Argentina won the World Cup, beating Italy in the Final. :)
Wayne Rooney had scored 6 goals in the tournament, and won the Golden Boot.
From the heights of the World Cup Semi Finals, my next game will be a very humble experience. In the Euro 2012 qualifiers, I'm playing Armenia away. :P
Or will I? I was reminded of the job offer from QPR, and I had a look what they had to offer. Not a lot, it turned out. And they offered transfer funds of only £825,000. Looking at the calibre of player that would buy, I decided that they were in for a long season, and I didn't want to spend it getting relegated. My next decision therefore, was to remain as England manager.
The last decision I had to make was who my captain was. I somewhat hurried the decision, and chose to keep Gary Neville, now 35, as captain. I should have chosen Steven Gerrard, who I had more first-team plans for. I will make that change next time.
But for now, that is my progress. It's July 2010, and I await the start of qualifying in September.