England has a contemporary history of “bottling it” on the football field. Time and time again the ‘Three Lions’ have been slain from twelve yards out, losing in the wickedest of ways in every major quarter-final that the world has seen, and although that statement is ludicrously hyperbolic: there does remain to be a shocking hint of truth in my words. However, under my stewardship things are different: I pick players because they deserve to be picked and the play well because they have been doing so for their clubs – and that is why we find ourselves on the verge of a second major final in the space of two years… Neither South Korea nor France were able to fell us – and now we march on into the Semi Finals of the FIFA World Cup.
South Korea 0-4 England, Zenit Arena – Saint Petersburg
Although I had expected to beat South Korea rather comfortably, I didn’t foresee us smacking them by four goals without a reply – especially when you take into account that John Terry was selected to play as my side’s single-pivot, a controversial choice that paid off! Lining up in our trademarked 4-3-3 formation meant that South Korea knew what to expect from us, but unfortunately for Koreans they simply couldn’t handle our quality. Conceding after just five minutes all-but condemned South Korea to defeat and it enabled us to relax our play and concentrate on keeping the ball – thus preventing our legs from becoming over fatigued.
Despite allowing South Korea to create a clear-cut chance in the first half our defence was able to hold firm throughout and we walked away from the fixture with a clean sheet in tact – partly due to Joe Hart’s superb save from Koo Ja-Cheol’s first half header. Jamie Vardy scored the pick of the goals, netting from 25 yards out with a well-taken half volley – having been assisted by the prolific Danny Welbeck.
With the team scoring an average rating of 7.98 I have little to complain about: my second-string side were able to walk past South Korea into the Quarter Finals – setting up a highly anticipated clash with our cross-Chanel rivals, France.
England 2-1 France, Luzhniki Stadium – Moscow
Having need extra-time to beat Mexico, Didier Deschamps’ Frech team went into our Quarter Final clash suffering from fatigue and injury. With Giroud and Benzema both absent from the starting lineup due to picking up knocks against Mexico, I was confident: John Stones and John Terry were selected to steward Jeremy Menez – and they did it superbly.
Despite going behind to an early Remi Cabella free-kick – a strike that Joe Hart had absolutely no chance of preventing from nestling into the roof of his net – we started the game well, passing the ball well and making the most out of our pace advantage down the flanks. Samuel Umtiti, Daniel Appiah, Dimitiri Payet and Antoine Griezmann were unable to prevent Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling from whipping crosses into the French 18-yard box – and it was that repeated phase of play that enabled my side to become the dominant force in the match.
Harry Kane tied the game up after 18 minutes with a phenomenal header, allowing Danny Welbeck to re-create the effort an hour later to put us in the driver’s seat. Despite the best efforts of Dimitri Payet – who forced a last minute save from the onrushing Joe Hart – France were unable to break down our newly constructed flat back-five defence and ultimately succumbed to defeat to a side with far less footballing ability: we simply had a superior game-plan and opted to stick to it!
As you can see from my crudely constructed graphic both of our goals were identical and the simple reason for that is that we play only to our strengths. Unfortunately, I do not have a wealth of ball-playing midfielders to choose from: Eric Dier is always one the first names on the team-sheet because he is by far our best defensively-minded midfielder, but ahead of him Ross Barkley, Dele Ali and Jack Wilshere are my only true creative outlets – so I have no choice but to keep our style of play simple. As I explained following our triumph at the European Champions I always instruct my players to operate on the counter-attack, push the ball into the wide areas and put the ball into the box for the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck to attack at the far post – and that is exactly how we scored against France.
Both of our goals came from crosses hit into the box from our right flank because of Raheem Sterling’s role as a winger on that side, while on the opposite wing Danny Welbeck tends to operate as an inside forward – and it is that inbalance that often causes defenders to scurry about aimlessly, usually losing their shape in the process.
Having beaten Russia and Turkey on their way to the Semi Finals we will face-off against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the last four of the competition, while Germany and Spain will contest the other Semi-Final. Although it is extraordinary that each of the final four teams left in the competition are all from Europe, the fact that Jamaica were just seconds away from making the Semi Finals says everything you need to know about this tournament: anyone can beat anyone – and they very almost put Spain to the sword…
That is all for the fifteenth instalment of ‘Roaring Again’, a Football Manager 2016 series with the English National team. I very much hope that you have found this article interesting, and if you have then maybe you would like to get in touch with me – and my fellow Football Manager Addicts admin folk! – over in our Facebook Group, through my Facebook Page, via Twitter or on Tifo. It is my intention to release Part Sixteen in the coming days, an article where I will discuss our efforts against Portugal in the Semi Final of the 2018 World Cup in Russia!