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...in Football Manager, that is.

First of all, you need to know that one of the odder things about the way that I play Football Manager is that I almost always play as more than one manager at a time. This is because it's a very different game depending on which team you manage. So managing a rich Champions League team is very different to managing a cash-strapped lower league team. And managing an international team is different again. Some of these managers I name after real football people. (Currently Glenn Hoddle and Eric Cantona.) Some of them are entirely fictional. (Currently I have 'Wim Kuiper', a laid-back Dutch manager who has just got the Arsenal job and Manchester United and Spain manager 'Gabriel Perez Cruz' who was a physical United centre-forward in a much older game of Football Manager.) And one of them is me. (I manage Wrexham, and have just got them promoted to the Championship, the second tier of English football.)

Glenn Hoddle had started off as England manager, but was sacked after a disappointing World Cup campaign in 2018, when England failed to get out of the group stage. He then took over the South Korean national side and won the Asian Cup with them, before taking the France job. France qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Eric Cantona had started off as Manchester United manager, but was sacked after only one (unsuccessful) season. He then took over newly-relegated Aston Villa and got them back into the Premier League before leaving for Inter Milan. He lasted a couple of seasons there before being sacked. Then he briefly took charge of Croatia, then France where he was sacked after a disappointing 2020 European Championship. Then he took the vacant Holland job but frankly made a bit of a mess of it and Holland failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. He saved a poor Everton side from relegation, but resigned after the Board failed to back him with any transfer funds to rebuild the squad (profit of £100million, transfer budget of £3million.).

That was the situation shortly before the 2022 World Cup.

Then Manchester City manager Marcelo Bielsa retired. Hoddle and Cantona both applied for the job and Hoddle was offered it - on condition that he leave the France job. Which he did - seven days before France's opening World Cup game against Gabriel Perez Cruz's Spain. In something of a panic, the French FA desperately looked around for a manager able to manage France at very short notice, and appointed Cantona.

And this is where it gets interesting...
Cantona didn't have time to change France's tactical approach, so went with Hoddle's successful asymmetric 433. This system was built to get the best out of France's two best players - Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Bayern Munich wide man Antoine Griezmann.

France were not favoured to get out of a difficult group. Only two nations would qualify and Spain and 2018 World Champions Colombia were undoubtedly favourites.

But France managed to win their opening game against Spain 3-2 (goals from Anthony Martial, Raphael Varane and an 87th minute winner from Martial). A second win, 4-2 against a surprisingly strong Iran side (France goals from Florian Thauvin and a hat-trick from Manchester City's Mickael Guerin) meant that progression to the second round was almost certain. Spain won their second game (4-3 against Colombia), but because of goal difference still needed the right results in the third set of group matches. Spain edged Iran 3-2 and therefore needed Anthony Martial's 87th minute equaliser for France against Colombia to claim second place in the group, behind France and ahead of Colombia.

France's progression through the group was impressive, but they had lost Paul Pogba to a knee injury in the second half of the Colombia game. This was a fairly minor injury but still likely to keep him out for the rest of the tournament. It was the same knee that had put him out for a crucial month earlier in the season (a crucial loss for a Manchester United team that had been challenging for several trophies but ended up winning nothing).

In the second round, Spain were drawn against Germany and played brilliantly to win 3-1 (all three goals from Manchester City forward Jese). Spain possibly coped with the heat of a 3pm kickoff in Qatar in late June rather better than their northern European opponents. Meanwhile France played poorly against a mediocre Sweden side. A dull game ended 0-0 after extra time, and France won the penalty shoot-out to advance to the quarter-final.

The quarter-final draw was not kind to either side, drawing Spain against a tough Argentina side and France against perennial contenders Brazil. Spain went ahead against Argentina through a 19th minute own goal and then basically hung on for the rest of the match - Argentina had ten shots on target to Spain's three - to win 1-0. France played excellently to beat Brazil 2-0. This was a Brazil side missing their one true superstar, Neymar, through injury. France went ahead in the second minute with a goal from fullback Lucas Digne and were in control for most of the match. Martial added a second in the 74th minute for a 2-0 win and a place in the semi-finals.

The semi-finals were Spain v England and France v Mexico. Probably the four best teams of the tournament.

The first semi-final was a classic game - wide open and full of breathtaking attacking football (and more than a few hard tackles - seven players were booked). Isco opened the scoring for Spain after 20 minutes, then Chelsea's Lewis Baker replied with a goal either side of half-time. Jese's 81st minute equaliser sent the match into extra time and then a penalty shootout. England of course are famous for losing penalty shootouts in major tournaments, but the one time that they won an important one was against Spain in Euro 96. And they won this one - Munir, Jese and Pablo Insua missing penalties for Spain.

The second semi-final pitted surprise team France against possibly the best team of the tournament, Mexico. It should have been a close game, but clinical finishing from France's forward three of Martial, Guerin and Alexandre Lacazette, and good goalkeeping from Hugo Lloris proved the difference. France won 3-0, a scoreline which flattered them a little. Mickael Guerin was becoming increasingly important for France, and by this time was keeping the out-of-form Antoine Griezmann out of the side.

And so the World Cup Final. England versus France.

The starting lineups:

England (4-2-3-1)
Shaw  Jones  Keane  Stones
Henderson  Baker
Sims  Ward-Prowse  Redmond

France (4-3-3)
Digne  Umtiti  Laporte  Foulquier
Kondogbia  Renault  Prost
Guerin  Martial  Bossetti

Aymeric Laporte and Alexy Bossetti came in for Raphael Varane and Alexandre Lacazette, both of whom failed fitness tests. Guerin kept his place ahead of Griezmann, while the more defensively minded Yanis Prost and the talented youngster Noam Renault were chosen ahead of the more experienced Clement Grenier and Yann M'Vila in midfield.

Lewis Baker opened the scoring for England after twelve minutes and then added a second from the penalty spot just four minutes later after Noam Renault brought down Luke Shaw. Shaw had been put through on goal by Baker, who at this point was running the game. The former Norwich midfielder had joined Champions League winners Chelsea shortly before the tournament started. France were really struggling to compete, especially in the centre of midfield.

And things seemed to get worse just a minute later when a bad John Stones tackle forced Guerin off through injury. The obvious replacement for Guerin was vice-captain Antoine Griezmann, but with his form being so poor, Cantona was very tempted to bring on Real Sociedad winger Florian Thauvin instead. Cantona changed his mind at the last minute and brought on Griezmann.

France settled down after this and got into the game a bit, although England were still dominating possession. Then on 41 minutes, Griezmann put Martial in on goal, only for the Paris St German striker to be denied by a sliding tackle from Manchester United's Michael Keane. Unfortunately for England, the ball came out to Griezmann who was just able to flick it into the goal with his right foot. 2-1 England.

That changed the half-time team talk for Cantona. "You're still in this game!" replaced something along the lines of "What the **** was that?" Still, a number of France players were playing poorly. Notably Aymeric Laporte and Noam Renault. Renault was playing the position usually filled by Paul Pogba, and Pogba had recovered from his injury sufficiently to get a seat on the bench. Cantona decided he needed to gamble and replaced Renault with his captain for the second half.

The gamble did not pay off. Pogba took a bad knock to the ankle just one minute into the second half. He managed to play another ten minutes in an attempt to run off the injury, but then had to come off.

England were reasserting their dominance, and came close to scoring again through James Ward-Prowse, Jordan Henderson and substitute Raheem Sterling (on for Ward-Prowse). As the second half wore on, England looked to preserve their lead. They took off striker Cliff Lambert and brought on Norwich's young defensive midfielder Lee Carter to try to hold on to what they had. And it almost worked. France struggled to get any possession as the 90 minutes approached. England almost had their hands on the trophy.

The referee added on five minutes of injury time. And then in the game's dying seconds, Digne sent in a cross from the left which Martial brilliantly flicked on into the path of Griezmann who struck the ball cleanly on the half-volley into the back of the net for a dramatic equaliser.

Both sets of players were clearly tired and extra time saw few clear cut chances for either side. However, France were really in trouble after Geoffrey Kondogbia was sent off after a second yellow card for a foul on Jordan Henderson.

Cantona decided to play for penalties and changed to a defensive strategy. Bossetti (twice) for France and Henderson and Sims for England all had chances to score against tired defences in the second period of extra time, but the match went to a penalty shoot-out.

The penalty shoot-out:
England: Baker scored
France: Bossetti scored
England: Henderson scored
France: Martial scored
England: Jones scored
France: Prost scored
England: Carter scored
France: Laporte scored
England: Chambers scored
France: Griezmann scored
England: Sims scored
France: Thauvin scored
England: Redmond MISSED (saved by Lloris)



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2016 06:29 pm (UTC)
Since when you were into football/soccer? :D
Feb. 28th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC)
This post is a work of art :-D

Mar. 13th, 2016 01:14 am (UTC)
I found this oddly thrilling. Though I had thought it was building up to a finale (ie the final) between Cantona's France and Cruz' Spain - so what does happen when you play against yourself?
Mar. 13th, 2016 01:47 am (UTC)
To be honest, my gut feel as early as the first knockout round was that France and Spain were destined to meet in the Final. Shame it didn't work out that way. (For one thing, it would have made the Final a lot less stressful!)

As far as the game is concerned, you can make the same tactical switches, substitutions etc as you could if the other team was being managed by the AI.

As far as my head is concerned, I try to be as schizophrenic as possible and manage both teams 'in character', so to speak.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )