The last time we spoke England’s qualifying campaign was in tatters. I’d promised long overdue silverware, but promptly turned the generation defining 5-1 win in to a generation-damaging 1-1 bore draw. Brazil came out of that 7-1 with more credit than we did in this game. Aside from the opening five minutes we were utterly, utterly hopeless.
But hey, what a five minutes.
These kind of performances are part and parcel of the England job, though. We can’t let these things bring us down. We dust ourselves off, we ignore the newspaper headlines superimposing our faces on to vegetables, and we keep going.
Home to Albania, World Cup 2002 Qualification, September 2001
We travel to Old Trafford (at the moment Wembley is still little more than a pile of bricks and a misjudgement of how much a stadium actually costs) to take on Albania and get us back on track. Albania in 2001 are minnows. This isn’t the team that really should have got a point against Switzerland on Saturday. We should beat these, and beat them big.
One thing I never understand in real life is why, when playing minnows, we don’t go a little more balls-to-the-wall. Do we really need to play 4 at the back, with possession-recycling defensive midfielders? Couldn’t we go a little bit mental and throw 3 up top, 4 attacking midfielders and one guy protecting a 2 man defence?
On top of playing 8 offensively minded players, I also learn from my biggest mistake against Germany. Dion Dublin is no impact sub. He’s an impact starter.
What’s the worst that can happen?
We end up scoring another two, meaning we finally have a 5-1 win for the fans to get behind. Sure, this was at home against Albania rather than away to Germany, but we’ll take what we can get.
Home to Greece, World Cup 2002 Qualification, October 2001
One month later, and another infamous moment in English football history.
Germany are 3 points ahead and playing Finland, so there is little chance of catching them. Still, we need to bring our A-Game in case they make a mistake.
Firstly, the squad. Nigel Martyn is having a shocker at club level and is therefore out. Jonathan Woodgate can’t get in ahead of Dominic Matteo, which is an automatic dropping. Nick Barmby is dropped when I realise I picked him for my previous squad and can’t remember why. Being England manager is hard. I also take out Teddy Sheringham as he’s about 90.
In comes Ugo Ehiogu, whose surname I had to check three times before I spelled it correctly and am almost certain will eventually end up autocorrecting to “Epilogue”.
Dion Dublin stays in. Obviously.
Finally, Robbie Fowler is back from injury and I need goals against Greece, so I’m trusting he can stay fit long enough to fire us into the Finals.
With that sorted, we’re ready to go. I’m feeling really confident about…
Oh, for f*cks sake.
Andy Cole, it’s your time to shine.
Maybe Teddy isn’t too old after all?
As much as I may need goals, I can’t risk the gung-ho approach that I took against Albania. I keep things narrow but try to overwhelm them with Barcelona pressing and Keane-on-Haaland tackling.
Big Dion’s ready to make a splash off the bench if Little Mickey can’t get the job done.
To the match!
Shaky start, but Joe Cole’s on fire and their defence were terrified. He tucks one away after half an hour and turns his man to play in Owen for the second. After the hour we decide to see the game out when Gerrard scores a wonder goal to guarantee the three points.
Unfortunately, Germany also win 3-0, so it’s the play offs for us. And we play…
How the hell are we going to prepare for this? That country doesn’t even exist anymore.
Home to Yugoslavia, World Cup 2002 Qualification Play Off, First Leg, November 2001
With a good performance against Greece we keep things stable, except for the injuries to Ugo Epilogue, Alan Smith, David James, Emile Heskey and, worst of all, Paul Scholes. In their places come Kieran Dyer, Nigel Martyn, Andy Cole, Gareth Barry and Robbie Fowler. The starting line up stays the same, only with Dyer replacing Scholes.
Can we join the likes of Belarus and Iran in the Finals? Let’s find out.
Joe Cole is my boy. He starts the game Will Grigg-esque, scoring and hitting the post in the first half. With just a one goal lead I start to get nervous, so the anonymous Frank Lampard drops out and Big Dion gets his place. Will we be rewarded for our faith?
Of course we will. Long ball forward is knocked down by Dublin, allowing Owen to run through a score. It’s like Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, if Quinn was actually playing centre back for his club side and Phillips was a terrible commentator.
Away to Yugoslavia, World Cup 2002 Qualification Play Off, Leg 2, November 2001
To Belgrade. Campbell’s injury in the first leg takes him out of action for two weeks, so Wes Brown gets called in to the squad and straight in to the first team. Trust, encouragement, reward, loyalty… satisfaction.
Even with a two goal advantage I’m feeling a little worried. I’ve been giving Lampard a chance but he’s still young and was kind of anonymous against Yugoslavia. It’ll only take 1 goal to feel really nervy, so I can’t have anonymous. I need something special.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Dion.
8 minutes in, DION picks the ball up. 25 yards from goal, he lofts the ball over the defence… Owen runs on to it… Japan/South Korea here we come!
Twenty minutes later they hit back from a set piece header from Tottenham’s Goran Bunjev… Bunjevcj… Goran B, but five minutes after that the ball bounces around the area and Dyer slots it home. 3 goal aggregate lead.
Sharon, book me a flight to Tokyo. I’m going Business Class.
To see how our preparations for the tournament go click here.
You can catch previous episode against Germany here.
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