The England Challenge: The Group Stages

Previously on 24

We scraped through qualification with a bunch of crap performances and I developed an unhealthy obsession with Dion Dublin.

Belgium, World Cup 2002 Group F Match One, June 2002

In 2016 the idea of opening your World Cup campaign against Belgium would be terrifying. Sure, they lost to Wales in the Euros, but we couldn’t beat Iceland for God’s sake. Belgium would murder us.

Still, 2002 is a different time. Their best two players are called Bart Goor and Wesley Gonck. A nice, comfortable win would go down nicely.

Nicky Butt was given an opportunity against Germany and nailed it, so he’s rewarded with a starting place. Scholes has been pretty average so far and drops to the bench as an impact sub. Performances get you in this team, not names. Otherwise picking someone with the name “Butt” would be rather silly.

I’ve put a lot of pressure on Big Dion to succeed so it’s only right that I give him the opportunity to deliver. With Joe Cole suspended I change to my 4-4-2 Diamond and put Dublin alongside Owen, with Kieran Dyer playing in the hole.

Let’s do this.

33. Belgium Tactics.png

Belgium dominate with Sol having a stinker and getting booked after about 3 seconds (that’ll be the Thatcher-on-Mendes tacking instruction)…

… but as the half hour approaches BIG DION does his man down the right and swings a lovely cross on to the head of Kieran Dyer to put us 1-0 up. I can’t help but feel like the game may have mixed their names up , but I’ll take it.

They keep dominating but we hit them on the counter time and time again. Becks hits the post on 38 minutes, Nicky Butt beats four (FOUR) players but can’t take the chance, and on 70 minutes I get worried how they come back in to the game and make a change. I move to a completely untested formation and take off our main goal threat to bring on an untested and uncapped player in the hopes of scoring against them before they can score against us.

What can go wrong?

34. New Belgium Tactics.png

What can go wrong? I’ll tell you what can go wrong… for Belgium. BIG DION can go wrong.

Becks whips in a peach of a cross, met by the head of DION, boom, 2-0, DION man of the match, job done. Y’all doubted me with that “Championship Manager Gods” talk, didn’t you?

36. Belgium Full Time.png

Bulgaria, World Cup 2002 Group F Match Two, June 2002

Being England manager is about making the difficult decisions. Against Belgium we gambled on Big Dion and it paid off. Against Bulgaria we commit to it. Joe Cole is back from suspension and takes up the left wing position in the 4-2-3-1 we’ve now played for all of 20 minutes so far. Michael Owen drops to the bench. That’s right. 2002 Michael Owen sits on the bench to find room for 2002 Dion Dublin. No regrets.

*two minutes later*

I have regrets.

30 minutes in to the game we do nothing, Bulgaria have 4 shots and hit the post. I prepare to hit the ‘tactics’ button when a lovely move sets Joe Cole down the left. He chips the ball in and its met by the head of, who else, Big Dion, and we’re leading. What a man.

That’s our only shot on target all game, but it’s enough for a 1-0 win we barely deserve to put us through to the next round. The perfect win, in other words.

39. Bulgaria Result.png

Coasta Rica, World Cup 2002 Group F Match Three, June 2002

With progression to the Second Round guaranteed we rest 9 players to see if anyone wants to step up for the knockout rounds. A dead rubber third group game in a World Cup against Costa Rica. What could go wrong?

41. Coasta Rica Tactics.png

As it turns out, not a lot. We only have three shots on target all game, but tuck all three away. Not great, but it’ll do. To win a tournament you have to win ugly, right?

42. Coasta Rica Result.png

So three wins from three without ever really playing all that well. That’s fine, we’re just saving ourselves for later.

43. 2nd Round Draw.png

Oh for fu…

To find out what happened in the France game click here.

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