Godfather Of Champions 607 The Destined Resul
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According to news released before the game, McClaren did place David Beckham on the starting lineup list. It looked like he was finally going to believe in the veteran's experience for such an important game.
Twain waited in front of the television to watch the game, but he was not cheering for England or McClaren. He purely wanted to examine Beckham's form and performance.
In the Croatian squad, the striker, Eduardo da Silva, who currently played for a.r.s.enal, was the most watched. The fawning English media heaped praises on his ability and reviewed his half-season at a.r.s.enal before the game, calling him "flawless." In fact, it was not flawless, but was successful. He scored five goals in less than half a season, and given that it was his first season, that was pretty good. He would be the most threatening player for England in the game.
There was another change in the squad list. Robinson, who had previously served as England's main goalkeeper, was ditched for the game, while Carson, who did well in the friendly game against Austria, was the starter. It appeared McClaren was distrustful of Robinson, otherwise it was too risky to replace the main goalkeeper in such an important game.
With Owen and Rooney injured, the starting striker was only Crouch, exactly the same as Wenger's a.n.a.lysis — Wenger thought McClaren would play 4-5-1 because England was short of strikers.
The five players in the midfield were Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Joe Cole, and Barry. In the rear defensive line, due to Rio Ferdinand's suspension and Terry's injuries, the arranged combination was Richards from Manchester City as the right-back, Campbell and Lescott as the center-backs, and Wayne Bridge as the left-back.
Before the game, the English media praised Croatia hard in hopes that Croatia would let England off easy since Croatia had already advanced and there was no need to struggle with the team.
Croatia's manager did not make any comments on the question when a reporter asked. No one knew if he was going to let the team go all out or if he was really just pretending and would throw the game when England powered up.
European football was not cleaner than Chinese football. Match fixing, football betting, match manipulation, throwing games, corrupt officiating were the many dark sides of football in Europe. The Europeans just did it with more sophistication than the Chinese. The average person would not be able to discern it unless they took a closer look. Even if they could discern it, there was no evidence.
For example, the English people wanted Croatia to throw the game. Although this would harm Russia's interests and contrary to the spirit of fair play, which option would the English people pick, harm Russia's interests or harm England's? Any fool would not choose to satisfy Russia. Because not everyone was a saint who could placing oneself above the common populace and without feelings and emotions. At a time when the nation was at stake, fanaticism would prevail.
However, the English people were smart. They did not directly state it and just gave Croatia seemingly dignified reason to throw the game —"Since they have already advanced, they do not need to fight hard for a game that doesn't matter to them, just in case one of their main players is injured or takes a red card and be suspended. It is not worth it."
The reason was adequate, reasonable, and legitimate. If Croatia sent the reserves squad and did not exert themselves and to let the England team win, the Russians might resentfully appeal. If there was no definite evidence, the matter would be settled inconclusively.
But, the problem was... Would the Croatians follow the script written by the English?
In the opening eight minutes, a boulder landed on the English people.
Srna, a full-back that Twain had hesitated whether or not to bring in that summer, made a pa.s.s from the flank after he broke through. Kranjčar followed up with a vigorous shot twenty-five yards away from the left flank. The starting goalkeeper, Carson, made a major blunder when he was up against the shot — he pounced on the ball and missed!
The football slowly rolled from under him toward the goal while Carson was still on the ground, somewhat still in a daze.
"Oh my G.o.d..." the commentator, John Motson, groaned painfully. "Either he was too nervous, or it was... a stupid mistake!"
The Croatians celebrated the goal, but Wembley Stadium was dead silent. No one antic.i.p.ated that they would concede a goal within eight minutes of starting.
Everyone was generally optimistic that England would use the home-field advantage to defeat Croatia before the game, so majority of the fans were pretty bullish.
Twain straightened up on the couch. Due to Croatia's energetic performance, he suddenly looked forward to the game again. It seemed that the Croatians did not intend to follow the script written for them.
The nightmare was not over. Just six minutes after the goal in the fourteenth minute, Eduardo da Silva broke through the edge of the penalty area. He lured England's two center-backs, Campbell and Lescott, to follow. He pa.s.sed the ball straight to Olić.
Campbell raised his hand to signal the other team was offside and did not give chase, but the a.s.sistant referee gave no indication that he'd seen and Campbell realized that Bridge was still delayed in the back.
Olić was successfully onside. He easily bypa.s.sed Carson, who came out to attack, and then shot into the empty goal.
In just six short minutes, Croatia had entered two goals in a row.
Croatia had no intention of throwing the game. Their performance felt like a bucket of cold water and put out the fire of hope among the English fans.
The Wembley Stadium was silent and the commentator, Motson, was quiet as well. The camera turned to McClaren, who was standing on the sidelines to direct the game. The poor man looked at the field in a slight daze, seemingly wondering what had happened. He held a bottle of water in his hand. From the first moment Croatia scored a goal, he had been drinking water nonstop. Every time the camera panned toward him, he was drinking water. Sweat covered his ruddy complexion, not because he was in good spirits, but because he was tormented by nerves.
After a while, Motson's voice rang out again. "Not even twenty minutes since starting, and we have conceded two goals in a row... Is Campbell old? Is Lescott too young? That's not a reason. Where is our midfield defense? Who is the most important barrier in front of the rear defensive line? Gareth Barry works very hard as an all-around midfielder — Gerrard and Lampard are all-around midfielders too — but what we need is a dedicated defensive midfielder! Barry can't stop Croatia's pervasive offense alone. They have too many attacking points!"
Motson vaguely reminded to the television audience that there was a player who could be extremely helpful in the situation sitting in front of the television at home.
Twain did not see it that way. As he watched the game, he explained everything to Shania, acting as a guest commentator and showing off the skills he picked up as BBC's guest pundit during the World Cup.
"Motson is wrong, and what he said can only be used before the goal concede. Now that England is two goals behind, it doesn't make sense to talk about the midfield barrier. McClaren is in a lot of trouble now. Does he desperately press up at all costs and bombard, or does he strengthen the defense in order to stop conceding more goals? It's a hard choice to make, Shania. And something is bound to go wrong in this kind of situation if he does not choose well. So he has to make a decision as soon as possible."
Twain grinned. He was well aware of McClaren's feelings because he had experienced them. What should he do when he desperately needed to score a goal, and his opponent scored instead? Should he steady the defense to prevent the continuation of goal concede, or step out and fight it out with the other team?
McClaren did not seem to have chosen his answer. England was in complete disarray. The players seemed to want to score on their own. There was no cooperation. Even if they had coordinated, it was rushed, and they always ended up losing the ball.
The loyal English fans in the stands were still singing but had not been able to conceal the hissing against McClaren.
Motson shook his head hard. "Can we still expect miracles with this kind of offensive standard?"
The positions and functions of Gerrard and Lampard on the field completely overlapped and they played for themselves. Beckham was confined to the right flank and lacked adequate support. Other than his header pa.s.ses, he played no role once he was marked by the opponent. What about Joe Cole on the left flank? His skills were brilliant, but his lack of speed made his breakthroughs fancy but contain no substance. He lost the ball as soon as he was surrounded by the Croatians. Where was Barry? He was placed behind the Lampard-Gerrard duo to balance the defense and offense.
One of his best performances on the national team was in the game against Israel. Lampard and Hargreaves were absent due to injuries, Carrick was dumped by McClaren, and Gerrard grit his teeth and was left to play as a barrier. In that situation, Barry played like he did at Aston Villa. The layout of the team's midfielders at the time was just right for him to play.
With one half of the Lampard-Gerrard duo missing due to Gerrard's injury, Barry was able to be the core after he moved to the middle, where his pa.s.ses created five offensive chances for England and resulted in a goal. In that game, he was used as the core of the midfield organization, which fully played to his characteristics an all-around player.
But now, Gerrard and Lampard were not hurt and McClaren let them be the core. Barry could only serve as the foil. The position was very awkward for Barry. He was at a loss on what to do and could not pinpoint his position. He did not know how to play to his best.
The entire lineup was strange, stuffed with powerful star players, and yet could not fully play their parts when put together. One plus one plus one plus one plus one did not equal to five, but less than five.
The first half pa.s.sed by in Croatia's counterattacks and England's blind blunders.
"If I were McClaren, I would instruct all the players to attack and not to think about defense, and to try to score a goal in the opening ten minutes, so that there's hope of winning in the second half," Twain told Shania. "Otherwise... they can just wait to be eliminated."
Shania pouted. "Why don't you coach the England team?"
Twain smiled. "I'm not going to. I wrote a newspaper column to admonish the national team manager and criticize his tactics. It does not mean that I want to be in that position and be scolded by others. That position is not meant for humans to do."
After the start of the second half, just as Twain had said, England stepped up their offensive. It was a sudden surge of offense and they ferociously pressed up against the Croatian team. It was like they had no defense at all. McClaren replaced Barry with the striker, Defoe, to strengthen the frontline and increase support for Crouch.
Croatia had expected England to fight back in the second half. They quickly made their own defensive response to counter the situation.
Their defense against England was simple. They retreated to the middle to let England pa.s.s on the sidelines. Once they came in, they would have to go out after the siege was lifted. It was not easy to compete for a header shot in the compacted penalty area. Even a man like Crouch, who was more than two meters tall, had little chance when squeezed between the two defenders.
Changing the course of the game was often not an unexpected adjustment of players or a clever tactical arrangement, but purely an accident.
Joe Cole pa.s.sed into the penalty area and Defoe fell in the penalty area, which the referee believed was a foul by the Croatian player, Šimunić, and he awarded a penalty kick. Despite protests from the Croatian players, the referee had no intention of changing it. The penalty invigorated the atmosphere in the stadium, and the Wembley fans sung loudly to cheer the players on.
When the broadcast gave the poor McClaren another shot, the water bottle in his hand was finally gone. Twain maliciously thought about if he spent more time in the restroom or in the locker room explaining the tactics to the players during halftime.
Lampard came forward to take the penalty kick. His low shot deceived the goalkeeper and the football flew into the bottom left corner of the goal. England reversed with a goal! It was the fifty-sixth minute, just one minute after the ten minute mark stated by Twain.
The reversal of a goal greatly boosted the morale of England and the Croatian team appeared to be a little listless. Things moved toward what the English people had hoped for — the Croatians would score two goals to shut the Russians' mouths and then England would strenuously counterattack and take advantage of the situation to return the favor, culminating in England and Croatia tying at 2:2. Everyone would shake hands and advance together.
However, Bridge, who had made the offside blunder in the first half, knocked the bar on the crossbar while lifting a siege and nearly caused an own goal, making the hearts of all English people leap into their throats. Then Srna sent a straight pa.s.s, and Bridge made another error while trying to lift the siege and helped the opponent stop the ball. Fortunately, Olić was not mentally prepared for the frequent gift-giving. His hasty shot on the edge of the penalty area was caught by Carson.
"Leighton Baines is stronger than Bridge but it's pity that you don't appreciate it, McClaren. You just can't see it." Twain murmured and shook his head.
In the 65th minute, David Beckham, whom everyone had high hopes for and expected to stage a miracle before the game, finally s.h.i.+ned. He made a precise pa.s.s from the flank and sent the football to Crouch's side. The tall man stopped the ball with his chest and volleyed the ball to equalize the score for England!
The Wembley Stadium burst into energy, and the cheers of the fans were deafening to Twain, who sat in front of the television.
"Crouch! Beckham! David Beckham, he saved England again! This pa.s.s was so accurate that Crouch only had to jump a little and stop the ball. He didn't need to get rid of the defenders at all because David's pa.s.s made it impossible for the opposing defenders to rob it!" Motson cried excitedly. "A draw! The situation is in our favor!"
News had come that Russia and Andorra had not scored yet, so Motson could say that. If Russia tied with Andorra, England would be in the clear — they would advance even if they lost.
Beckham, who a.s.sisted his teammate to break open the goal, acted more thrilled than the goalscorer, Crouch. He stood back after he embraced his teammates in celebration. He held up his fist and pounded the Three Lions emblem on his chest, the badge of the English Football a.s.sociation.
Now that he was on the England national team again, the number he wore was no longer that glorious number 7. The number 7 was now Barry's. He could only wear the number 17. Even in Nottingham Forest, he could not wear number 7 and 23. There was a time when everyone thought that he had sunk and could not return to the past. But every time people thought like that, Beckham proved how wrong they were.
In the 1998 World Cup, he was sent off for his retaliation against Simeone and became the "the nation's public enemy" crusaded by the entire Britain. Everyone thought his career was over, but Beckham announced his return with a goal in in the first game of the 98-99 season. That season, he helped Manchester United take the great Treble. In the 2000 UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p, England was knocked out during the group stage, and he was as depressed as England. However, in the 2001 World Cup qualifiers, he scored against Greece with a free kick, instantly turning him from a man to a G.o.d. In 2004 UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p, he lost a penalty shot, causing the team to be eliminated by Portugal. For a moment, people mocked him. That kind of tone continued to the World Cup in Germany. In the eyes of the people, England's linchpins were Lampard, Gerrard, and Rooney. But in Germany, who was the one that almost brought England into the top 16 on his own, and relied on his free kicks to help the team break into the top eight? It was David Beckham. Who wore the captain's armband and ran tirelessly in the hot sun at the age of thirty until he vomited? David Beckham. After the World Cup, he was ruled out of the national team and had a hard time at Real Madrid, where he could not even get on the subst.i.tutes' list. Everyone thought he would be finished this time. He could only go to the United States to make his fortune and waste time. But no. Beckham used his amazing professional performance and stable state, as well as his fighting spirit, to impress Capello to return to Real Madrid's main lineup. He helped the team get its first league t.i.tle in four years. He also announced a return to the English Premier League to join the newly minted European champion, Nottingham Forest and to make a comeback.
Twain saw the familiar, hideous, twisted face the television. He was going to gloat that England was going to be eliminated, but now he could not feel happy.
He was conflicted because he did not want McClaren to stay in the manager position, but he also did not want to see Beckham's national team career end so tragically. Without the UEFA European Football Champions.h.i.+p qualification, would Beckham still have the condition to look forward to the World Cup in three years?
Without his return in the first half, McClaren's team would not even have a chance to face Croatia and compete against Russia for the last spot at Wembley.
But was it more brutal in this way? Which would make people feel better: to be eliminated before the finish line or before the game?
For the rest of the game, Twain remained silent and did not explain the game to Shania, who felt it was a little strange, but she glanced at the serious-looking Twain and did not ask.
Beckham played harder, or rather, the English players tried their best because the Croatian team fought back. It looked like the Croatians did not accept the English people's wishful thinking. They did not want to shake hands and play along with their opponents.
Beckham began to frequently pull back and move to the middle to help with the defense. The threat of his attacks weakened. After all, he was older and was unable to run like when he was young. Sometimes, he would go up and not return. At other times, he would return and not press up. In the 74th minute, McClaren made a subst.i.tution that was highly controversial after the game. He called on Wright-Phillips to replace Beckham.
When Beckham came off, the entire crowd stood up and applauded him, thanking him for everything he had done for the team.
It was clear that McClaren did not want to just defend to the end of the game and brought on Wright-Phillips, who had outstanding stamina and dribbling skills, to break through. He wanted to continue to put pressure on Croatia and slightly weaken their counterattacks.
He had a good idea, but he ignored one point. Suppressing defense through offense was a double-edged sword.
Wright-Phillips might have been more active in offense than Beckham, but he definitely contributed less than David Beckham in defense.
The Wembley Stadium was plunged into a minute-long silence after a twenty-five-yard shot from the left flank by Croatian subst.i.tute Petrić in the 81st minute, which gave Croatia the lead.
This time, Twain did not clench both his fists to cheer for Croatia's goal. He just sat on the couch and sighed.
The result was destined. It was just too cruel for David.
At the same time, the Russian team scored. The score of the Russian and Andorran game was displayed at the bottom of the screen — 0:1, with Andorra trailing at home.
The news made the bad situation worse, causing the English to continue their silence.
Just after Croatia scored, McClaren used Darren Bent to replace Joe Cole and continued to step up the offense. He ran out of subst.i.tutions and had to stake it all.
The England team turned out in full force, wanting to equalize the score at the end to create a miracle. But Croatia did not retreat, even after their lead, and allow England to besiege them. On the contrary, they still insisted on fighting back and attacking. As long as there was an opportunity to firmly press forward, they would cause trouble for England's rear defensive line to and force England to defend.
It was very similar to Twain's approach. No matter how many goals he was ahead, he did not give up the opportunity to fight back to prevent the opponent from doing their best to press the attack and create miracles.
When the referee blew the whistle at the end of the game, the score was fixed at 2:3.
Beckham, who had not changed out of his jersey, stood on the field. The television footage focused on his back, with a noisy grandstand in the background, as well as the eye-catching screen over his head.
Beckham wore the number 17 jersey and looked up at the score on the screen:
England 2:3 Croatia.
No one could see the look on his face, and he stood there alone for a long while in a daze. Behind him were his dejected teammates and the Croatians who cheered and celebrated. An empty pitch and an empty goal was in front of them.
Motson sighed. "England is out. In the summer of 2008, it has been announced in advance... that this is end."
Twain turned off the television. He did not want to see Beckham's back or listen to McClaren's speech at the post-match press conference.
Shania looked at him strangely.
"I'm going to bed." He turned around to walk up the stairs. "Good night, Shania."
"Good night, Uncle Tony." Shania watched his back disappear up the stairwell and then turned her head to look at the quartz clock on the wall.
It was not even ten o'clock.
She turned around to turn on the television, which happened to be the post-match interview. Beckham stood in front of the cameras. His jersey was soaked in sweat and stuck to his chest.
He wearily said, "Being eliminated from the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifier is not the end of the world. England has so many outstanding young players. I believe we will have a better future in the World Cup in South Africa..."
"Now that you're out of the UEFA European Champions.h.i.+p qualifier, will it give you a peace of mind to play for Nottingham Forest?" A reporter asked vaguely.
Beckham shook his head. "I'm not going to announce my withdrawal from the England team. I have said before that I am always ready to play for England until England no longer needs me."
Having said that, Beckham refused to answer any more questions and bowed his head as he walked out of the interview zone.
Shania saw McClaren on the screen. She turned off the television and went upstairs to get ready to sleep.
Tonight is a downer...
Godfather Of Champions 607 The Destined Resul
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Godfather Of Champions 607 The Destined Resul summary
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