I couldn’t tell you the last time I managed at international level.
There are vague memories of taking control of France for a World Cup or European Championships run back in the CM 01/02 days. I may have held the Irish job at one stage in FM 2005, but I’ll hazard it’s ten or fifteen years in the real world since I’ve stepped into international management.
With the winter break carved into the Premier League, we (for #FMFShow) decided to fill the six-week gap of games with a trip to the World Cup.
Thinking we might head to Germany as underdogs, we did a little bit of world-breaking, Shane immediately opting for France – no hesitation – so I decided to lump for Germany.
The Group Stage
The group stages got underway in the last week of November, Germany paired with Denmark, Mexico and Egypt in Group G – not exactly a group of death, but not without possible challenges.
In the wind-up, it went swimmingly.
Against Denmark, we were clinical from set-pieces. Leroy Sané put us ahead with a superb left-footed free-kick from 25 yards out, bending around the wall and tucking in low past Kasper Schmeichel (I’m feeling bad for him at the stage as I’ve only played him once this season for the club).
Niklas Sule popped up for two more, one in either half. The first, a glancing header into the bottom right corner off the back of a Toni Kroos corner, the second underneath a Kimmich corner, this time beating the ‘keeper at the near post with 15 left to play.
The Danes grab a consolation through Damsgaard but we run out 3-1 winners.I lose Adeyemi to injury for a week so Werner will start against Mexico.
Mexico proved a bit of a sterner test, despite the 4-2 final score.
Sané opens the scoring again but we’re pegged back to 1-1 at half-time. Inside ten minutes of the second half, it’s 2-2, Werner getting on the scoresheet before Lozano levelled matters.
We hit the after-Werners (can I call it that) for the last half hour, upped the pace, and watched on as the Chelsea man completed his hat-trick, the first off some clever build up play spurred on from Goretzka, the second getting on the end of a Sané free-kick.
Heading to Egypt, we were massive favourites. No Mo Salah, we’re already qualified so it’s a chance to rest Gosens, Kroos, Werner and get Kevin Volland a run-out. Egypt finish with ten men, we make it three from three with a 2-0 win as Gundogan
Once the group stages are done, it’s everything to play for. Unless you’re gambling on extra time and penalties, there’s no point being too coy or slow about the approach to games here.
Mali were the surprise package, hitting the last sixteen with two wins and a draw, but they would fall to Italy. Denmark, having qualified out of the group behind me were smashed 3-1 by England.
v Uruguay (Last Sixteen)
Against Uruguay I expected a bit more, as in I thought it would be a much tougher game. As the tree was arranged for the last sixteen, myself and Shane found each other on opposite sides, at least presenting the possibility that we could see a host v host final if every result went our way.
By half time, we’re 2-0 up. The first is a beauty – Gosens to Gundogan, Gundogan to Sané, Sané turning in the box to fire low to the bottom right corner.
De la Cruz is on the field for Uruguay and I’m still taking pride that he’s able to represent his country based on the phenomenal season we pulled off at River Plate two years previous. Sure enough, I’m pissed he wouldn’t join me at Leicester in the Championship, or in the Premier League, instead opting for Man Utd and seeing his value skyrocket from €6m to €30m, but I’m glad to see him pull up with injury after 25 minutes meaning there’s much less of a threat coming down my right flank.
Gundogan was the provider for the second, floating a lovely ball in for Sané to get on the end of for his and our second.
Spotting that Kroos wasn’t taking corners in the first half, I realise he’s not on the field at all so pull Gundogan who’s put in a good shift over 45 minutes. Sané hops over to the left to try get Gnabry into the game on the right as he’s been fairly quiet the past two games.
Come 67 minutes, we’re three up, Adeyemi getting his first of the tournament and he’s only barely on the pitch. Goretzka threads a super ball up through the middle for the 19-year-old to latch on to, showing great composure to dink right and slot home to make it 3-0.
Brazil have just beaten Chile 5-0 so we’ll face them in the quarter-finals. England are also heading to the last eight, Maddison scoring as they bean Denmark 3-1.
V Brazil (Quarter-finals)
Ahead of the Brazil game, my assistant manager suggests making 8 changes to the starting lineup. I don’t think he quite gets the concept of what’s going on here. Instead, it’s Kroos and Havertz to start, Gundogan and Brandt back on the bench. Adeyemi starts up top.
Two minutes in, Sané (potentially our player of the tournament) is set loose in the Brazil box by Goretzka, snaps home from 12 yards to make it 1-0. The celebrations are short-lived though, Fabinho picks out Neymar who smashes home from the edge of the box to make it 1–1.
Brazil are every where. It feels like they’re first to every ball, first to the available space and the opening 15-20 minutes are a little frightening to watch.Gnabry is being put under fierce pressure on the left and is pretty much closed out of the game.
On 36, Kroos does what Kroos does best, floating a corner in from the left for Stark to get under and it’s 2-1. We slow the tempo, shift the play through the middle as they’re pushing wider, see if we can find a bit of breathing room to get a third before the break. We’re doing well to stay out of the ref’s book as well given the tendency to pick up yellow cards.
We’re just about at half time when we’re pegged back again, Neymar in for a second as Coutinho skins Werner on the edge of our own box and floats one in for the PSG kingpin to head home.
The second half was a completely different affair. My half-time team talk wasn’t up to much other than telling the lads I’m delighted with how the game is going. Everyone’s spurred on so we go out and attack the second half.
“Get stuck in”, I yell from the sidelines. It gets me three yellow cards inside 20 minutes and Kroos suspended for the semi-finals if we get through.
With fifteen left to play, Adeyemi, brought on to play on the right wing is teed up by Goretzka to have a crack. He fires off the post but it spins across the goal and over the line to make it 3-2. Can we hold out?
Five minutes later, it’s starting to look like game over as Neymar puts the ball in the back of his own net to make it 4-2 and Brazil have switched off. We slow it right down, work the ball into the box, keep the passing short and playing patient in the build-up. Time-wasting? Don’t mind if I do.
The clock ticks on and just as the referee is about to call a halt to the game after four minutes of injury time, Timo Werner catches the defence napping and bags a fifth. Second-half rout completed, we’re off to the semi-finals to be joined by Italy, Spain (sorry Shane, he goes out on penalties after a weird-ass game) and England.
We’ll be getting Italy next.
V Italy (Semi-final)
Now we’re into the business end of things.
The Italians have been great all tournament and I would have imagined they were favourites for our semi-final fixture. A win here means another World Cup final appearance for Germany and my first in God knows how many years. It’s that far back, I don’t even have a memory of what happened with France back in the early noughties. Maybe we did it, maybe we didn’t.
Kroos is suspended, so Gundogan starts in his place. Gnabry has been off-colour most of the tournament so he’s dropped in favour of Volland and it’s an inspired move.
He gets stuck in straight from the off, he’s booked on four minutes but he’s got two assists to his name by half time, setting up Werner and Havertz for carbon-copy goals squared from the left edge of the box for each to fire home.
Castrovilli, feared in midfield, goes off injured at half time and the Italians have no way back. They’re dirty, sloppy, giving away too much ball and we’re comfortable working things slowly.
Havertz adds a third to put the nail in the coffin for Mancini’s boys, rolling a through ball under Donnarumma to heap on the misery.
Spain, having knocked Shane’s France out are sent packing by England and we’ve got ourselves a final date with the old enemy.
V England (Final)
The gas thing here is, we out-played England. At least from a statistics point of view. In the end, it wasn’t to be.
While it didn’t hit me so much on Thursday night, I wound up spending the entire of Friday contemplating what could have been.
I didn’t bother with a team meeting pre-game. I stuck with Volland on the left who turned in a shit-show of a performance, the worst rating of any German player all tournament.
We managed four shots on target, gave away far too many fouls and despite owning possession for the most-part, we just couldn’t make it count.
Timo Werner did open the scoring though, four minutes in and we’re a goal up in a World Cup final. The stuff of dreams.
As the game progresses though, I’m starting to see why Barcelona lumped €128m on Marcus Rashford as he floats in a cross from the right edge of the box for Phil Foden to head home unmarked at the back post.
Rashford turns goalscorer five minutes ahead of the break with an absolute belter, Ter Stegen beaten all ends up. How many games did we go in losing at the break to come back and win? Zero.
Reece James is a forced change for England at half time and he puts the ball in the net on 53 minutes – his own. We’re back to 2-2. Is the comeback on?
Is it hell.
The one prediction I made pre-game in chat was that Maddison was going to have a savage game. He’s been building steam across the tournament and he’s been on fire for the club. Sure enough, with 25 minutes left in the game, he breaks free in midfield, sets Mason Greenwood off who blasts past Ter Stegen from a good 20 yards out.
England park the bus, going 3-3-2-1-1 and I can’t crack it it. We go attacking, all out attack, we’re demanding more, pushing forward, getting stuck it. Too many instructions and not enough.
It’s coming home. It’s 1966 all over again and I’m left going to bed with a runners-up medal having orchestrated wins over Uruguay, Brazil and Italy beforehand while England got arguably an easier route to the final. I’m not bitter.
If you’re curious, here’s the England team that go home World Cup winners.
James Maddison started in the number six shirt, posted a 7.1 and set up the winner for Greenwood.
You’ll hear it on the podcast but it’s that dilemma of wanting your club players to shine at big tournaments, but then coming up against them is a pain in the arse. One one side it’s “please, do well”, on the other it’s “if you score against me, you’re sacked” kind of thing.
Here’s how it played out in the immortal words of the boys from 90min.com
The World Cup dream is over. We do at least live up to the FA’s expectations of making the final.
In the midst of everything, the draw for the Euros in 2024 are made and we don’t need to qualify as we’re hosts. With friendlies and nations league fixtures to look forward to instead of competitive qualifying, it may be a good time to give Jogi Lowe a buzz and see if he fancies his old job back.
Want to hear more and see how it plays out for Shane as part of our ongoing podcast network save? Listen on…
Keep up with game-play during the week. We give over Wednesday and Thursday nights to this journey for The Football Manager Football Show. You can follow the live updates on Twitter at @fmfshow or you can find me there as @kenmc056 (gaming) or @kenmcguire (business). You can follow the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, with new episodes dropping weekly.