Football’s Coming Home

So here we are, the summer of 2006. Britain basks in a heatwave, the Queen celebrates her 80th birthday, Gnarls Barkley is number one and the World Cup finals are being held in England. The scene is set for the first English triumph in 40 years, and yours truly has been tasked with making it happen.

Not a great start

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It’s OK though, plenty of cup triumphs have begun with false starts, right?

Our Doncaster connection puts us back on track in the second group game at Highbury

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We’re still waiting for a big performance to announce our arrival in the tournament. It came a few days later

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With those 4 goals, Scholesy draws level with Jimmy Greaves as England’s all time third top scorer.

A comfortable passage through an easy group. Most of the big names made it into the round of 16, except from group H

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Four years ago Spain made the final in Japan, this time around they were on the plane back to Madrid on the back of 3 straight defeats.

World Cup fever was gripping the country, and the draw for round 2 only increased the excitement

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Brazil hadn’t won the trophy since 94, but they had an attack which could outscore anyone on their day. Ronaldo, still the best striker in the world; Denilson, formerly the world’s most expensive player; and the current highest valued player in the world Joilton

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Gulp… tough draw for us. We won our group but the fact is that it doesn’t matter how well we play if those three turn it on

Here’s our starting line-up

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Our attacking four can rival anyone in the world. We’re a bit light in centre-midfield though, and Matty Upson is no-one’s idea of a world class full-back (I actually dropped him on the day of the match!)

In the end it was a comfortable 90 minutes. Michael Owen turned provider with 2 assists. A goal in each half sent us into the quarter-finals and the Brazilians to Heathrow for an early flight homeengbra

The other big story in round 2 was France, dispatching Holland with ease and starting to look ominous

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Trezegoal, Anelka and Kanoute are a frightening prospect.

Who will we get in the quarters?

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The auld enemy! On paper quite an easy draw, but imagine being knocked out in our home world cup by the Scots. Germany Italy should be a good’un too.

After days of hype, the game began and we had a catastrophic start. Just 7 minutes in, Doncaster midfielder Paul Barrett brought down Alex Martin in the penalty area, penalty to Scotland and red card to Barrett!!

Star Scotland fullback Euan Bradford made no mistake from the spot

We played OK for the rest of the half, but we were missing the injured Paul Scholes and despite creating a few chances we never looked like scoring.

With time running out, we turned to Robbie Fowler off the bench and Rangers forward Carl Samways, playing arguably the biggest match of his career.

With 10 minutes left, Samways pounced on a Scottish mistake to pull us level. At full-time the momentum was all on our side, despite having played most of the match with 10 men

Sure enough, in extra-time Alex Notman scored a dramatic golden goal winner (from a Samways through ball) to send the country into riotous celebration and the Scots into misery

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As you can see, we rode our luck and had Richard Wright to thank for a series of great saves in the first half

Germany Italy was as tight as we expected

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John Toshack’s first tournament as Italian manager ends in the quarter finals but he can’t be too upset with that. In the words of Gary Lineker “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

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An emotionally and physically drained England squad made the journey up to Manchester a couple of days later.

This time we managed to last until the 9th minute before a red card and penalty decision went against us. Today’s villain was Barrett’s team mate Riccardo Ludlam

Trezeguet buried the penalty and from that moment on, there was only one winner. France were a different proposition to Scotland and with an extra man they dominated from start to finish

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1 shot on goal versus 19. Even with 10 men that’s pitiful. Riccardo Ludlam becomes the number one hate figure. Following Sven’s footsteps I urge the nation ‘not to kill him’, although to be honest I feel like strangling myself… should’ve started Michael Duberry and Rio in the centre instead..

With the home nation out, all eyes turned to Germany. They won the last international tournament in England and were favourites to do so again

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Sure enough, Anderlecht striker Jorge Seitz scored a golden goal in the first minute of extra-time to send the Germans to a final date with France

Before that, there was the 3/4th place play off to get out the way. A bit of an anti-climax. Only 4 shots on target in the whole 120 minutes. David Beckham ballooned his penalty in the shoot-out (sound familiar?) and the Belgians took bronze

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Germany vs France in the final had all the makings of a classic. The two best teams in the tournament by far, and it lived up to its billing.

Lars Ricken had a penalty saved by Christophe Revault early on.

His miss was punished when David Trezeguet scored yet another goal to put the French in front. When Martin Djetou scored a second after 56 minutes, France had one hand on the cup. Until…

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Substitute Marcel Ketelaer, a full-back plying his trade at PSG was the unlikely hero as Germany completed a remarkable turnaround

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Jorg Seitz had a season for the ages. Belgian League, Belgian Cup, Champions League and World Cup Winner. He scored in the World Cup Final too. Still can’t get into our team ahead of Erik Nevland though

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He didn’t win European player of the year award though. Oddly this honour went to a player beaten in the World Cup Final and the Champions League semi-final by Jorge Seitz and co

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(How is Anelka winning those awards ahead of Ronaldo & co?)

With that, I’m off on a well-earned summer holiday!

 

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