And so it has come to this.
When I started this challenge 5 months ago, I thought it would be easy. I presumed I would take this Golden Generation and mould them in to what we always wanted them to be. I thought there was a real chance we’d breeze our way to a major tournament win.
At worst, I thought we’d take on a swashbuckling style, smashing our way through teams with a combination of delicate one touch football and Souness-on-Rotariu tackling…
… Even if we didn’t win the tournament, we’d do it with a level of dignity unbeknownst to English football fans.
And somehow it worked.
Portugal, Euro 2004 Final, June 2004
It’s hard not to see the similarities between us and Greece. Like them in the alternate reality, no-one fancied us. Our football is often poor, our players a ragtag bunch of misfits, and yet we have managed to sneak our way in to the Euro 2004 Final to play Portugal.
Portugal have been fantastic so far. They’ve won each game handily, conceding just twice and scoring at least two goals a game. They come in to the final with a goal difference of +12 from five games. We come in with +1.
But they’re not Germany. At least we have that.
We have a problem, however. We went through 120 minutes just 4 days ago and our players are knackered. Portugal have eased their way in to the final without breaking a sweat and had an extra day preparation. Their entire squad above 90% fitness. Not a single one of our usual starters is above 85%.
Ideally we wouldn’t change too much, but Big Dion is taking naps in training. I’m short on options.
Still, I’m paid to make the big decisions. Big Dion can be an impact sub. Michael Owen is clearly too busy car shopping like Alan Partridge to give two sh*ts about winning a major tournament. Therefore, with a major tournament win potentially 90 minutes away, I go with the biggest gamble of my entire management career…
Wes Brown replaces Gary Neville at right back.
No, wait, that’s not it.
Michael Bridges, he of 3 caps and no goals, starts the Euro 2004 final as the lone striker.
I’m nervous, but I’m ready.
It looks like the players are nervous as well, but they sure as sh*t ain’t ready.
Figo hits the post twice in the first half an hour and I start to mentally prepare for the World Cup qualifiers. We look weary and sluggish, but eventually find our way in to the game.
I change our passing to go more direct, making the ball do the work for us, and we start to overwhelm them. Ball after ball is floated in to their area, but they deal with each of them with consummate ease. Even haggard old Dion can’t do anything when he comes on, and once again the game goes to extra time. Just what we sodding need.
Still we push forward but still we can’t break them down. Our leggy players become susceptible to the counter, but even their players become worn down. Like two exhausted boxers we collapse in to each other, drained, exhausted, fatigued. It’s going to penalties.
We go first, with Becks kicking things off.
Good start. Figo for them…
Oh my God we’re actually going to do this!
Michael Owen for us…
Never mind. F*cking Michael Owen.
Emmanuel Petit takes their second…
Next up is Feyenoord’s Joe Cole. Time to come off that naughty step for good, I say…
Nicky Butt next for us…
Wait, Nicky Butt is taking a penalty?! What am I thinking? Isn’t there literally anyone else who could take one? Wait, Nicky, don’t…
Never doubted you, son.
Fernando Meira for Portugal…
PAUL ROBINSON IS MY BOY!
We’re leading 3-2 with just one penalty left each. Finally, finally, I might get to stop playing this game.
If we score our final penalty we gain an insurmountable lead and win Euro 2004. Our fifth penalty taker is, of course, Dion Dublin.
I started this challenge off by talking about him far too much. I then went on to accidentally compare him to Jesus. It resulted in real Dion Dublin liking one of my tweets. If this series of posts has been about anything, it’s about one man’s odd obsession with a computerised version of a veteran English striker.
He has been our fifth penalty taker all along. I’ve always trusted his experience and composure in the most high-pressure of environments. It worked against France in the World Cup, and against Czech Republic in the previous round of the Euros. It failed against Czech Republic in the World Cup when his miss sent us out of the tournament in the Quarter Final stage.
That was different, though. In each of those situations he was tasked with scoring a penalty that would keep us in the tournament.
Today, he has to score to win us an entire tournament.
God I’m nervous.
Dion Dublin, to win England a major tournament…
Wait, say that again.
WE ACTUALLY WON.
I… I… I don’t know what to say. We actually did it? England actually won a major tournament?
I don’t think it gets more unlikely than this. I’ve actively taken the country backwards. I’ve tried new formations and they’ve failed horribly. I’ve stuck with old formations and, well, they’ve failed miserably as well.
I feel like every failure has been 100% my fault, and every victory in spite of me.
I truly am an England manager.
Looking for another England Challenge? I’ve taken on the poisoned chalice again, this time on Football Manager 2017. To check out the first episde, click here.
To go back trough the previous episodes of this challenge you can use these links:
- Episode One (the Germany game)
- Episode Two (the qualifiers)
- Episode Three (build up to World Cup 2002)
- Episode Four (the Group Stages)
- Episode Five (the Second Round)
- Episode Six (the Quarter Final)
- Episode Seven (Euro 2004 qualifiers begin)
- Episode Eight (the whole of 2003)
- Episode Nine (build up to Euro 2004)
- Episode Ten (Euro 2004 Group Stages)
- Episode Eleven (Euro 2004 Knock Out Stages)