So after all the build-up, the biggest sports tournament in the world is finally here. England are back competing in the World Cup for the first time since their run to the semis in 1990. Alex Ferguson is back at the World Cup too, this time as Italian manager.
The usual suspects will start as favourites; holders Germany, Euro 2000 winners Spain, and of course Brazil
England’s first group game pits them against Sir Alex and his Italian team.
Michael Duberry, England captain. It was a close game. but Robbie Fowler stole a win for England late on.
Things go from bad to worse for the Italians. A draw against the United States see them heading home on the first flight back to Rome.
The other surprise of the group matches is a well-organised Bielorussia side topping Group B and qualifying alongside Argentina
The second round sees Bielorussia with a tough draw against the Dutch. On the same day, favourites Germany take on Sweden
Yep, the Germans crash out and join Italy on the way home
It’s an England – Nigeria 2nd round game. Guess who scores another late goal?
Liverpool midfield general Kevin Nicholls injuring himself in the goal celebrations, maybe.
The draw for the quarters throws up some big games
Argentina will be the only side expecting to make it through comfortably
It’s a day to forget for England, ranking high on their list of all-time worst performances. David Beckham was out injured and Marcello Lippi lived up to Italian defensive stereotypes by picking probably the most negative 11 ever to take the pitch together. England went in with not 3, not 4, but 5 centre-backs, plus the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt. They got what they deserved
Alan Stubbs cruelly out of his depth as well
Fans around the world breathed a sigh of relief at the departure of England. No-one expected what was to follow though
Mats Lilienberg, from Club Bruges’ stable of centre-forwards with the two goals to knock out the Dutch
Argentina and Portugal join them in the semis. Brazil also out of the tournament
The first semi saw Euro 2000 holders Spain reach another international final. Brave Sweden on the way home after extra-time
The Portugal Argentina game was a tight one too. This time we had to wait till the 119th minute for the winner
So three days after these two marathons, it’s an Argentina vs Spain final. No European country has ever won a final outside of Europe of course. Would Spain be the first?
Arsenal’s Ariel Ortega is the man of the match. I had a representative in the final in the shape of Diego Simeone of Anderlecht (transfer-listed at the moment though!)
And that was followed by the news that football is coming home™
Hopefully Signor Lippi will be sacked by then and I can lead England to a glorious home victory
Before I leave you, here’s a recap of the winners of the major club trophies in the first years of this game
Oh and the end of season awards
Inter’s Champions League triumph earned Morten Carlsen the Euro player of the year title. Luigi Cagni will feel aggrieved at losing out on the Italian managerial award. His Bologna side won the league, Guidolin only won the Coppa Italia with Juventus. An Englishman abroad wins the Italian young player of the Year award.
So next year we’ve got Doncaster in the Champions League and you’d hope either them or Anderlecht will win my first league title…