The England Challenge: I’ll Take Not Being Embarrassed, Please

Euro 2004. If we’re going to win a tournament, this has to be it. Not only are the Golden Generation peaking around the same time, it’s the tournament that Greece won in that alternate universe. PLUS this was that bygone era of there only being three knock out games if you get past the group stages. It’s there for the taking.

A nice, easy start in our first group game would be good. Three points after a casual stroll around the field. An early couple of goals and a clean sheet. Something like that, you know? We just have to beat…

Oh. Germany.

Germany, Euro 2004 Group D, June 2004

We can’t really risk going down to 10 men, and Scotty Parker and his lovely hair is the only player to have taken our Cantona-on-Zakarian tackling seriously recently…

… but I’m taking a chance on him against Germany. I like his fight. David Dunn has got us out of trouble a couple of times so he starts. Meanwhile, Joe Cole sits on the naughty step after a handful of poor performances. Let’s do this.

95. Germany Tactics.png

We’re actually good! David Dunn hit the post inside 10 minutes, and followed up with one of those wonderful “Dunn can’t miss” texts, followed by “Goal kick to Germany”.

So obviously, with all this domination Germany go down the other end and score with their first shot of the game, 35 minutes in. Two minutes later, they score with their second. Apparently “Campbell simply can’t contain Klose” and that’s enough for me to shut my laptop screen and go for a walk.

When I come back, Campbell comes off and Buxton comes on. I should have started with him. We have all the ball in the second half but can’t break them down, so I really shouldn’t be surprised when Neuville scores with their third shot on target to lock them in to a 3-0 win.

96. Germany Result.png

Paul Robinson got a match rating of 5/10, which seems somewhat generous given the result would have been the same whether he was there or not.

97. Germany Stats.png

Ireland, Euro 2004 Group D, June 2004

I take a break from explaining to my girlfriend why I have to commit to another two years of game time to try and end this challenge to get ready for Ireland. Hey, at least it’s not Iceland.

That Germany result was hard to take. We were by far the better team but it just didn’t click, and they got lucky with their only three opportunities of the whole game.

Still, no time to lick our wounds. Ireland will be a tough opposition, but they did us a favour in the last game by drawing 1-1 with Denmark. Considering we are now essentially competing with them both for second place in the group that’s not an awful result for us.

Our goal is straightforward. Win both games and we’re through. Fail and we’re out.

Despite the result, I saw enough in the Germany game to not make many changes to the line up. Sol Campbell is obviously out of the team. I’d fly him back to London myself if I could. I also bring in Joe Cole for the disappointing David Dunn.

Paul Robinson stays in despite doing literally nothing in the last game, as David James lacks match fitness and even in a computer game I can’t bring myself to give Stuart Taylor a start in a major international tournament. There are limits to how far your suspension of belief can go.

99. Ireland Tactics.png

We’re actually kind of rubbish in the first 20 minutes. So rubbish, in fact, that I start to consider what I will do if I get fired. As I mentally write out my resignation note Gary Neville surges down the right, whips the ball in and…

100. Dion Ireland.png

*wipes a tear*

I don’t know what I’d do without you.

Wait, what’s that? You want another?

101. Dublin Ireland 2.png

Oh, go on then.

With the game coming to a close Robbie Keane scores and suddenly things get a bit tense, but we hold on to claim a very much needed victory.

102. Ireland Result.png

I don’t want to call it a one-man show, but you know…

Denmark, Euro 2004 Group D, June 2004

This one is personal.

In their last game Denmark drew with Germany, just to make us look that bit worse. They could have fallen apart and lost 8-0 to make us look better by comparison but no, they had to actually play well and make us look like morons.

The flipside of this is that anyone can now qualify from the group. I clearly can’t rely on Germany to do anything other than beat us, so we have to win to confirm qualification.

Ferdinand and Butt are suspended so Woodgate and Gerrard come in. Dion’s breathing out his a*se but we can’t afford to lose him. Not for this game. His 47-year-old legs are going to have to kick on for a while yet.

103. Denmark Tactics.png

As we tend to do against weaker sides (yeah, take that, Denmark) we dominate proceedings and bring the best out in their keeper, only for them to hit us on the break. Unlike against Germany, Paul Robinson isn’t afraid to get grass stains on his kit and makes a couple of saves, and our persistence pays off when (who else) Big Dion plays in Joe Cole to get the breakthrough and to officially take him off the naughty step.

Joe Cole scores again after the break, so I sub Big Dion before he feints. Within 10 minutes Denmark get a goal through Ebbe Sand and again I feel nervous, but we hang on and progress to the Quarter Finals by the skin of our teeth.

104. Denmark Result.png

Three more games. That’s all I need. Just three more games of ill-deserved victories and I can put this God-forsaken game to bed.

I don’t ask for much.

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