The England Challenge: I’m Exhausted

When we last spoke we eased in to the Second Round without ever really getting out of second gear, thanks in part to two world class performances from my main man, Big Dion.

Elsewhere in the Second Round, Belgium beat USA 3-2, Italy hammered Scotland 4-1, Japan shocked Spain 1-0, Argentina beat Germany, Czech Rep continued their fine form by beating Nigeria 2-0, Brazil struggled past China 1-0 (after extra time) and Portugal beat Nigeria 2-0.

If you want to check out earlier editions of the challenge, you can find the first episode here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here.

But right now we have more important things to focus on…

France, World Cup 2002 Second Round, June 2002

We change the formation again. The 4-2-3-1 did nothing against Bulgaria, and the 2 AMs worked well. Michael Owen fails to make the team again, with Joe Cole and Kieran Dyer playing behind Big Dion (who is chasing the golden boot after 2 in 2). We decide to attack, press high and stick with the Totti-on-Ramelow tackling that has served us well so far.

France will be difficult, sure. Barthez, Thuram, Desailly, Pires, Zidane. But we’ve got Big Dion. We’ll be okay.

44. France Tactics.png

Or maybe not.

It takes four minutes to be absolutely carved open and Fulham’s Steve Marlet pokes it past Seaman to put them 1-0 ahead. Two minutes later Marlet is put clean through and knocks it just wide. Two minutes after THAT he narrowly misses again. I sense this might be a long night.

But then, and I swear I’m not lying, DION F*CKING DUBLIN takes it past THREE F*CKING PLAYERS and bangs it in from TWENTYFIVE F*CKING YARDS. F*CK YES.

We start to ask more questions but become liable to the counter attack, and get counter attacked we do. With just seven minutes left on the clock Zidane cuts us open for the 700th time and Marlet scores again. For all their domination it’s their second shot on target, and Seaman’s had a nightmare. The seconds tick away and I begin to think of what might have been had we been even remotely capable of holding a line.

Three minutes to go. The game is passing us by. We can’t get the ball anywhere near the box, so we hit a long, hopeful punt in to the area. Barthez comes for it… BUT DION BEATS HIM TO IT!

45. Dublin Doublw.png

Extra time. I need some fresh air.

Three minutes in to extra time and Seaman makes his first save. Nice that he decided to join in. It was hard to progress when we were trying to get by with a fake ponytail on top of a pile of coats for a goalkeeper.

We then hit half time, and I realise we’re 15 minutes from a penalty shootout deciding our fate. As an Englishman I’d be insane to take that risk. Ashley Cole off. Kevin Phillips on.

10 minutes to go, Woodgate pumps the ball forward. Dyer finds the ball at his feet and fires it home… but it’s disallowed! Big Dion was offside! WHAT?! This isn’t Andy Cole we’re talking about here, it’s the Player of the Tournament Dion Dublin!

Our players, furious at this miscarriage of justice, surround the ref. Barthez uses this opportunity to punt it forward and Pires is through… but Seaman saves! Jesus, I can’t handle this. I need a cigarette or something.

The last ten minutes are insane end to end action I can’t even describe, apart from Zidane getting booked for fouling Dion Dublin, presumably out of jealousy. Match ends, Dion Dublin is given a 10/10.

50. France Result.png

Penalties. Good grief.

They go first, and Gallas tucks it home. Beckham follows and calmly slots it home. Zidane follows suit, as do Owen, Pires, Scholes, Wiltord and Phillips. 8 penalties taken. 4-4.

Up next comes Lillian Thuram, but he has no problem either. I imagine David Seaman has gone for a walk or something. He’s nearly 40, after all.

That leaves it at 5-4 to France, with one penalty left. It goes to (you guessed it) Big Dion. He HAS to score or we’re knocked out, after a perfect performance and a brace against the reigning world champions. Up he steps…

And he scores. Obviously. This is Big Dion we’re talking about here.

Sudden death, and Lamouchi scores. Whoever he is. Gerrard next, he puts it away too. 6-6, and I wonder start to consider how good David Seaman might be at taking penalties if he makes it back from his stroll around Seoul city centre.

Man of the Match Steve Marlet steps up…

46. France Pen 1.png

F*CKING YES.

At last a breakthrough. Kieran Dyer, our second best player of the tournament so far, to put us through to the Quarter Final…

47. France Pen 2.png

F*CKING NO.

Arsenal legend Mikael Sylvestre…

48. France Pen 3.png

Oh my God my chest hurts.

Rio…

49. France Pen 4.png

We’re through to the Quarter Final. I’m going for a lie down.

To find out what happened in the Quarter Final click here.

You can catch previous episodes on the following links:

Given the stress I’ve just been through for this obviously vitally important challenge, the least you can do is follow me on Twitter. You can do that here. Come on, I just knocked five years off my life with this game.

Also make sure to check back in every Monday for the latest reviews.

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