CFuller

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About CFuller

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    Football Manager storyteller from Romford, Essex

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    Dagenham & Redbridge (FM13)

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  1. If you have any examples of that happening in real life, then by all means share them.
  2. AUGUST 2032 We had ended July by thrashing Colchester United, so imagine how our county rivals must have felt when we began August by demolishing their reserve team as well! Our second-string began their league campaign with a 5-1 victory over Colchester, in which Souleymane Nomaou helped himself to a couple of goals. As far as our first-team was concerned, their next game was away to Millwall, who held Aston Villa to a goalless stalemate on the opening day. We travelled to The Den on the final day of last season, getting a 1-1 draw in what was effectively a dead rubber. There would be rather more to play for when we returned to that particular corner of south London. 3 August 2032: Millwall vs Dagenham & Redbridge Mario Djokic and Baldur Hreidarsson both looked to carry over their goalscoring form from the season-opener into this game. In the 7th minute, Baldur's flick-on into the Millwall area evaded Lions defender Daniel Wyatt and bounced towards Mario, whose shot was brilliantly saved by Niall Sutcliffe. Hreidarsson's first couple of attempts, in the 9th and 16th minute, were both very disappointing by comparison. Millwall gave Kieran Whalley his first test in the Daggers goal after 13 minutes, when James Lester's blistering volley was superbly pushed behind by the young Mancunian. Four minutes later, Lions midfielder Adam McNeil sustained a knock whilst tackling our captain William Barnes and had to come off. Despite that setback, Millwall would open the scoring after a rare lapse from Daggers centre-back Gareth Lloyd in the 23rd minute. Gareth moved away from Mick Baird in the penalty area to close down Millwall's other striker Dean Stepney, who then found Baird completely open. The result was inevitable - we were 1-0 down. Four minutes later, though, Barnes cancelled out Baird's opener with a wonderful assist for Hreidarsson, whose shot was deflected into the net off Sutcliffe's calf. There then followed a series of misses from Will, Baldur and Mario before the latter ended the half by sending us 2-1 up. The Montenegrin drilled in a superb square ball from Steven Shelton in injury time, and we were looking good for successive wins. Millwall manager Daniel Philliskirk made a major tactical change for the second half as he put more emphasis on midfield. The Lions gradually became more assured on the ball, and their attackers were soon causing us more problems. In the 56th minute, Lester laid the ball on to former Wolverhampton Wanderers trainee Stepney, whose low shot was parried away by Whalley. Sensing that Millwall were about to turn the game around, I ditched my 4-4-2 formation for a narrow 4-3-1-2 and urged captain Barnes to "get stuck in" a bit more. That shout would come back to bite me in the 72nd minute. Will bundled over Millwall substitute James Readings as both men went after a corner delivery from Lions left-back Carl Sainsbury, and the referee pointed to the spot. Stepney stepped up to take it... and although Kieran did get a glove to the spot-kick, he could only help it into the net. Millwall were back level at 2-2. We went back on the offensive after 77 minutes, with Hreidarsson hitting a long-range shot that rattled Sutcliffe's crossbar. Two minutes after that, another defensive mistake saw us throw the game away. Daggers right-back Heikki Puustinen laxly let Sainsbury get away from him, and when Stepney found Sainsbury with an incisive pass, the former England Under-19s international drilled in a shot at the near post. That goal left us trailing 3-2, and but for the crossbar, Lester could well have worsened our plight in the final minute of normal time. The feelgood factor from the Colchester United game had ebbed away as we lost our first away fixture. Millwall - 3 (Baird 23, Stepney pen73, Sainsbury 79) Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Hreidarsson 27, Djokic 45) Championship, Attendance 8,347 - POSITIONS: Millwall 4th, Dag & Red 8th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Puustinen (Banton), Lloyd, Darvill, O'Reilly, Powell (Martin), Fraser, Barnes, Shelton (Honeyball), Hreidarsson, Djokic. Well, that was a real mood-killer. Next up for us was a return to Victoria Road, and hopefully a return to winning ways against Crewe Alexandra. New Crewe manager Allan McGregor had started his reign with a draw at Doncaster Rovers and a late defeat to his former club Aston Villa. 7 August 2032: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Crewe Alexandra Crewe made a blistering shot, finding the net after just four minutes. Romanian forward Ioan Bogatu surged up the right flank before floating in a cross towards Gary Harper. Harper then barged into Dagenham goalie Kieran Whalley, who could only punch the ball into his own net. The referee instantly called a foul, and so the scoreline remained at 0-0. We would soon be on the receiving end of some strict refereeing, as Matthew Fraser and Arran Banton each picked up bookings within the first 15 minutes. In the 16th minute, shortly after his booking, Banton lost the ball to Crewe winger Matteo Cragnotti. The Italian then played a square ball to Harper, whose low drive was pushed away by Whalley. Kieran would save another Harper shot in the 24th minute, after a sublime solo dribble from the Railwaymen striker. If Whalley was looking solid in our goal, Alex keeper Warren Rodwell was looking even better. Rodwell made two breathtaking saves just before the half-hour from Victor Dam and Baldur Hreidarsson. Disappointingly, our attempts at goal in the latter stages of the first half were not up to scratch, and we went into the break still looking for the breakthrough. Baldur continued to flatter to deceive with a couple of early second-half shots. Strike partner Souleymane Nomaou fared little better, and his full competitive debut was cut short after he dragged an effort wide in the 55th minute. However, the introductions of Mario Djokic and - later - Paul Nixon did nothing to fix our attacking problems. We were far too quick to shoot from long range rather than work the ball into Crewe's penalty area. We did make a rare foray into the box after 78 minutes, when Daniel O'Reilly's strike was parried wide by the excellent Rodwell. A few minutes before then, Crewe boss Allan McGregor had bravely brought on untested 17-year-old striker Daniel Sykes as a substitute. Another attacking sub - Will Pitt - replaced the ineffective Harper soon afterwards. With just a couple of minutes left to go until full-time, those changes would make all the difference. After Nixon struggled to clear away a corner from Crewe midfielder Jake White, Pitt nodded the ball back into our area. Midfielder Greg Killick then volleyed the ball on to debutant Sykes, whose powerful strike sent the away fans wild! For the second match in a row, we had been undone by an agonising late goal. We almost grabbed an even later equaliser in injury time through Dean Martin, but another sublime Rodwell save condemned us to back-to-back defeats. Dagenham & Redbridge - 0 Crewe Alexandra - 1 (Sykes 88) Championship, Attendance 11,698 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 16th, Crewe 12th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Casey, Moser, O'Reilly, Fraser (Virgo), Barnes, Dam, Martin, Hreidarsson (Nixon), Nomaou (Djokic). BOOKED: Fraser, Banton. I was far from happy at the final whistle, and with good reason. We had lost two games that we really should have won, and our early momentum had been snuffed out just like that. Paul Nixon would also be stopped in his tracks after a promising start to his Dagenham career. Nixon strained his knee ligaments in training and would be out for around six weeks as a result. In other Daggers news, one teenage midfielder left Victoria Road on loan while another arrived on a free transfer. As Nigel Atta started a five-month loan stint at Leighton Town, we completed the signing of former Dundee United midfielder Tyrone Sedgley, who would celebrate his 18th birthday just a few days later. The Scotland Under-19s international is a brave and determined young lad who could develop into a useful player. Following our league disappointments, we began our League Cup campaign at Bristol Rovers in Round 1. I'd rather not be reminded about the last time we played the League Two Pirates in this competition two seasons ago - and to be honest, I don't need to be. You may remember that our young French defensive midfielder José Cochet spent the first part of last season on loan at the Memorial Stadium. Now back in action after six months out with a broken leg, José returned to Bristol as part of a Daggers team that consisted mostly of backup players. 10 August 2032: Bristol Rovers vs Dagenham & Redbridge Souleymane Nomaou tried to impress me early on, but his first-minute shot was from too far out to seriously trouble the Bristol Rovers goal. Another long-ranger in the second minute, from Jacques Polomat, did at least draw a save out of Pirates goalkeeper Tyler Sercombe. After those early attempts, our first-half performance was... well, a bit average. Niger striker Nomaou continued to let me down with his poor finishing, while Polomat had no fewer than three shots blocked by Bristol Rovers' defenders late in the half. As for another Francophone Dagger, José Cochet had a very disappointing half and was booked in the 36th minute for a cynical foul on Rovers winger Liam Fox. On the plus side, our defence looked pretty solid, save for a missed interception in the 38th minute from Velimir Radosavljevic. Velimir's mistimed jump towards Fox's left-wing delivery opened the door for Pirates right-winger Freddie Gilbey, but Daryl Ryan's comfortable catch sent us into the break with the scoreline still at 0-0. I made my feelings about our performance clear in the dressing room at half-time, and the players returned to the field looking rather more fired up. Sercombe parried a strike from Nomaou in the 47th minute, and then had to keep out further efforts from Joel Honeyball and Polomat in the 57th and 62nd minutes. Alas, that promising start from the Daggers would soon peter out. Sol made way for Mario Djokic midway through the half, but he was unable to break through a robust Rovers defence held together superbly by captain Joe Gardner. Our own backline stayed firm as well, and debutant Velimir impressed me greatly with a host of fantastic interceptions. As time wore on, though, it seemed more and more likely that, rather than merely take us to extra-time, Bristol Rovers would complete another League Cup upset within 90 minutes. Centre-half Lee Plant missed a great chance to put them ahead on 76 minutes, when he flicked Scott Glover's corner over the bar. Six minutes later, Fox floated a dangerous cross into our six-yard box. Ryan appeared to have it covered... but the wet ball slipped through his gloves, leaving Irish compatriot Craig McCarthy free to fire Bristol Rovers into Round 2! For the second time in three seasons, we had been dumped out of the League Cup at the first hurdle by those pesky Pirates. Bristol Rovers - 1 (McCarthy 82) Dagenham & Redbridge - 0 League Cup Round 1, Attendance 1,438 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryan, Casey, Moser, Radosavljevic, Banton (Puustinen), O'Reilly, Cochet (Martin), Virgo, Polomat, Nomaou (Djokic), Honeyball. BOOKED: Cochet. Words fail me. That was the third game in a row in which we had conceded a late winner in the final quarter-hour. It was obvious that we had to kick out of that habit sharpish, otherwise this would be a long, hard season.
  3. I'm in east London, not central London, but horrific events happening in my capital city never get easier to digest.
  4. And here's the now-annual depth chart: GK: Whalley / Ryan D/WB L: O'Reilly / Radosavljevic / Duru D C: Lloyd / Darvill / Radosavljevic / Moser / Casey / Duru D/WB R: Puustinen / Banton / Moser DM C: Barnes / Virgo / Cochet M/AM L: Shelton / Honeyball M C: Barnes / Fraser / Martin / Virgo / Dam / Cochet M/AM R: Powell / Martin / Virgo AM C: Dam / Martin / Polomat / Honeyball F C (strikers): Djokic / Nomaou / Honeyball F C (centre-forwards): Nixon / Hreidarsson / Polomat
  5. Dagenham & Redbridge squad - Start of 2032/2033 season (All ages correct as of 1 August 2032) GOALKEEPERS 1. Daryl Ryan (age 27, Irish) Daryl's still as solid as ever, but he may have to play second-fiddle to the younger Whalley from now on. 13. Kieran Whalley (age 21, English) Although Kieran lost his starting place last season, I feel that he's now mature enough to hammer down a starting spot. If the confident Mancunian can improve his agility, he could grow into an excellent keeper. DEFENDERS 2. Heikki Puustinen (age 31, Finnish) Heikki has been ice-cool since his place as our regular right-back came under serious threat. The Finn has superb endurance and will be staying at Victoria Road until at least the end of this season. 3. Daniel O'Reilly (age 24, Irish) Daniel is now part of the Dagenham furniture and firmly established at wing-back. Although he could contribute a bit more when going forward, he's an excellent defender and one of our more consistent players. 5. John Moser (age 18, French) John was exceptional while on loan in League One last season and is now ready to step up to the Championship. At 5ft 11in, he'll never be the greatest centre-back in the air, but he's strong and very mature for his age. 6. George Darvill (age 19, English) George was last season's breakthrough star and is already a regular at centre-half, despite his tender years. The local lad has been capped by England Under-19s and will surely have a glittering career in football. 19. Gareth Lloyd (age 32, Welsh) Our rickety defence was much sturdier once centre-half Gareth joined us last October. The Wales vice-captain thrives in big games and has outstanding marking ability, making him a key part of our backline. 23. Arran Banton (age 22, English) Right-wing workhorse Arran is all set to complete the transition to regular starter this season. 24. Zola Casey (age 20, American) Virginian centre-back Zola is certainly strong, though he still needs to improve a lot mentally and technically. 26. Philip Duru (age 20, Nigerian) Philip's no mean defender, but he's at risk of becoming overshadowed by our younger centre-backs. 31. Velimir Radosavljevic (age 19, Serbian) Velimir's got the aerial ability to play at centre-half, and the energy to perform decently at left-back too. MIDFIELDERS 4. William Barnes (age 23, English) William's a powder keg of a central midfielder, but I hope that giving him the captaincy will calm him down somewhat. The resilient former England youth international has been part of our squad for five years. 7. Shaun Powell (age 19, Welsh) Wingers have often been very hit-and-miss for me, and Shaun is no different. 'The Blonde Bombshell' is very explosive pace-wise, but his crosses really need to find their target much more often. 8. Victor Dam (age 27, Danish) Last season was perhaps Victor's best on the assists front, as the energetic Dane set up eight goals. To use a North American term, he's in a 'contract year', so I'm expecting him to kick on further and earn a new deal. 11. Steven Shelton (age 20, English) On loan from Manchester City, Steven could become a useful left-winger if we can get his self-confidence up. 14. Matthew Fraser (age 25, Scottish) I wish I could wrap Matthew up in cotton wool, because he's an asset for us when fit. The deep-lying midfielder is an excellent long-range passer who loves to dictate the tempo and control the game. 17. Tom Virgo (age 20, English) Youth graduate Tom is a useful backup defensive midfielder who does his job with the minimum of fuss. 18. Dean Martin (age 24, English) Whenever Dean is on the pitch, expect killer balls galore and a full-blooded display from midfield. The fearless Londoner has the ability to turn a game on its head at any given moment. 20. José Cochet (age 20, French) Defensive midfielder José has only just recovered from a broken leg that has really set his development back. 21. Jacques Polomat (age 20, French) Jacques could still be a fine attacking midfielder, though his big breakthrough might not come for a while. FORWARDS 9. Mario Djokic (age 33, Montenegrin) Now our only remaining player who was born before the Millennium, Mario is still a fantastic goalscorer on his day. Even as his physical ability gradually declines, his predatory instinct will surely never leave him. 10. Paul Nixon (age 22, Northern Irish) Ulster-born new record signing Paul is a real wildcard who could become our next go-to target man. 12. Souleymane Nomaou (age 28, Nigerien) Souleymane bagged a hat-trick against Chelsea and could prove to be an excellent poacher for us. 15. Joel Honeyball (age 24, English) Dagenham born and bred, Joel deserves to be vice-captain, even though he certainly won't play in every game. The speedy striker/left-winger has always been able to frighten defenders when called upon. 16. Baldur Hreidarsson (age 21, Icelandic) After scoring or creating 27 goals last season, Baldur has been brought back for a second loan spell from West Ham United. Daggers fans have fallen head over heels for this brave and burly Nordic target man. RESERVE & YOUTH PLAYERS Goalkeepers: Jerome Farrell, Courtney Gallagher, Colin Glasgow (on loan at Leyton Orient) Defenders: Paul Habu, Rocco Mazzola (on loan at Birmingham City), Will McCourt, Kevin McManus, Jefferson Moran, Ross Pearson, Carl Quinn, Larry Wood Midfielders: Nigel Atta, Joe Charles (on loan at Yeovil Town), Gavan Davies, Dave Hutchinson (on loan at Cheltenham Town), Dennis McCann, Anton Morris, Martin Thompson, Lars Zandbergen (on loan at Queens Park Rangers) Forwards: Tristan Egueh, Peguy Kasongo, Aaron Megson, Ollie Reynolds, Derek Wright (on loan at Scunthorpe United) BACKROOM STAFF Manager: Christopher Fuller Assistant Manager: Fabio Saraiva Coaches: Jamie Cochrane, Richaee Derby, Lewis Proudfoot, Marco Verratti Fitness Coach: David Wheater Goalkeeping Coach: Scott Carson Physios: Sam Cutler (head), Adam Hutchings Scouts: Callum Donnelly (chief), Goma Lambu, Chris Lewington, Dylan McGeouch, Thierry Monteny, Nicky Reynolds Reserves Manager: Sean O'Callaghan Head of Youth Development: Curtis Langton Under-18s Manager: Tom Ince Under-18s Assistant Manager: Aaron McEwan Under-18s Coach: Joseph Yoffe
  6. JULY 2032 (continued) Three more young Daggers went out on loan as the new season drew nearer. Left-flankers Rocco Mazzola and Lars Zandbergen would both be playing in League One for the next six months, as full-back Rocco went to Birmingham City, and newly-signed winger Lars was farmed out to Queens Park Rangers. Also leaving Victoria Road to gain first-team experience was youth midfielder Joe Charles. He would spend the next six months at Yeovil Town, who'd built up a reputation as a middling League Two club in recent years. In other news, the European Under-19s Championship came to an end, with Portugal beating Holland 2-1 in extra-time to lift the title. I mention that because the tournament's Best XI featured a certain George Darvill, who was the only Englishman to make the select team. Our final friendly was at Bell Close against feeder club Leighton Town, who were just days away from making their Football League debut. Although most of our first-team regulars stayed at home to rest before our Championship opener, a few big names such as William Barnes and Mario Djokic did travel with an otherwise youthful squad to build up their match fitness. 27 July 2032: Leighton Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge After a couple of poor early attempts from Dagenham midfielder Jacques Polomat, we were subjected to some much better shots from Leighton. Daggers goalie Daryl Ryan passed his first test in the 9th minute, when he tipped over a header from Conor Laird. Reds winger Harry Hinton then forced Ryan into a couple of catches after 12 and 18 minutes. Meanwhile, our struggles at the other end continued, with young forward Ollie Reynolds doing nothing to suggest that he was ready for regular first-team football. The first goal of a tight game would eventually come after 36 minutes... from a Mr D Martin. However, it wasn't from Dean Martin, who blasted a piledriver over the bar for Dagenham in the 28th minute. Eight minutes after that, Leighton's Scottish striker David Martin ran onto a Hinton flick-on, took the ball beyond Ryan, and stabbed in a cool finish. The League Two newcomers were 1-0 up! Dean Martin's afternoon got worse in the 41st minute, when he was pushed for a trip on Hinton. Another midfielder struggled somewhat, as Polomat missed the target twice more late on before finally striking lucky in stoppage time. Jacques' low strike deflected into the goal off the post, and it was 1-1 at half-time. Youth striker Tristan Egueh was one of four players who came on for the Daggers during the break. Egueh could've had an assist in the 54th minute, but his pass to Polomat resulted in a shot that was easily caught by Reds goalkeeper Javlon Phelan. Two minutes later, Leighton sub Gerry Ennis unleashed a half-volley that flew over the crossbar. Ennis' next chance in the 63rd minute was pulled wide, although his colleague Hinton did rattle the crossbar with a cross two minutes after that. Our target man Baldur Hreidarsson then blazed a 70th-minute shot into the stands as the game threatened to dissolve into a poor 1-1 draw. Egueh couldn't break through a stubborn Leighton defence before the substitute was subbed in favour of Souleymane Nomaou, who also had an ineffective cameo. Then, three minutes from time, it appeared that we were heading for defeat. Leighton retook the lead after Hinton's centre was poked into the target by another Scottish frontman - Mitchel Duguid. We'd had significantly more shots at goal than our League Two opponents, but just like against Cheltenham Town, we hadn't been clinical enough. The final three minutes of normal time passed by without an equaliser, as did the three scheduled minutes of injury time... but play continued into a fourth additional minute as we launched a final assault. Loanee left-winger Steven Shelton sent a last-ditch centre to the far post, where his opposite winger Shaun Powell popped up to fire it home and save a draw! I wasn't exactly chuffed, mind. This had been another disappointing show against lower-league opposition, and we were lucky not to lose again. Leighton Town - 2 (Martin 36, Duguid 87) Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Polomat 45, Powell 90) Friendly, Attendance 1,158 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryan (Farrell), McCourt (Pearson), Duru (Quinn), Moser (Darvill), Radosavljevic (Moran), Nixon (Hreidarsson), Barnes (Hutchinson), Martin (Atta), Polomat (Powell), Reynolds (Shelton), Djokic (Egueh (Nomaou)). BOOKED: Martin, Moran. That narrow escape ended a short - and very bizarre - pre-season campaign that had seen us lose to Cheltenham Town before destroying Chelsea. If there was anything I could confidently say before the new season, it was that I couldn't confidently say whereabouts we'd finish in the Championship. After our final friendly, I allowed 17-year-old midfielder Dave Hutchinson to join Cheltenham on loan for six months. Even after what they had done to us, I felt no ill towards the Robins, and I hoped that they could help Hutch realise his huge potential. At roughly the same time, I announced that all-action midfielder William Barnes would be the new captain of Dagenham & Redbridge. That choice was generally well-received, although long-serving local boy Joel Honeyball felt that he had a strong case to be skipper. Joel was instead given the vice-captaincy as compensation. As July came to an end, our new Championship season began with a home match against Essex rivals Colchester United. The U's finished a lowly 19th last term and were desperate to regain local bragging rights, so we would need to get out of the blocks quickly. 31 July 2032: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Colchester United Dagenham fans feared the worst when Colchester winger Victor Hamsher found Regan Stroud with an excellent cross into our penalty area after just three minutes. Thankfully, Stroud's header was far from excellent, sailing well wide. There was no such profligacy at the other end a minute later, when Mario Djokic smashed Paul Nixon's square ball into the United net! Our season was off to a flier, and this Montenegrin eagle would soon soar to greater heights. In the 8th minute, Mario flew from the centre circle to Colchester's penalty area, where he struck for a second time! Dean Martin also wanted in on the goalscoring action, although his shot in the 12th minute was well blocked by U's captain Casey Phillips. Three minutes later, Daggers goalie Kieran Whalley made his first save of the league season from Stroud's fierce drive. Kieran's Colchester counterpart Shayne Griffin would be called upon in the 18th minute to stop another audacious effort from Martin. Things then went rather quiet for the rest of the half, although Nixon and Martin each missed late chances to strengthen our position. Would those misses prove costly? My first reason for concern came when Hamsher skirted past a slide tackle from George Darvill in the opening minute of the second half. We held our collective breaths in the Daggers dugout... and then breathed sigh of reliefs, as Hamsher's shot smacked the post before Gareth Lloyd cleared it into touch. Whalley had to catch a header from Stroud shortly after that. Colchester's bright start to the half then fizzled out, allowing us to recompose and move closer to sealing victory. Half-time substitute Baldur Hreidarsson had his first pop at goal after 56 minutes, but he was thwarted by Griffin's fingertips. Newly-appointed captain William Barnes also had a shot saved by Griffin in the 68th minute before making way for Tom Virgo. In Will's absence, free-kick responsibilities were handed over to Baldur. The Icelander sent a superb set-piece into the top corner in the 74th minute after Djokic was fouled by U's defender Eric Ford, and we were 3-0 up! Although Victor Dam came off shortly after that third goal following a rough tackle from Colchester right-back Miles Wardell, we remained on course to win an opening-day Championship fixture for the first time. Baldur made victory absolutely certain on 81 minutes, when he headed in Heikki Puustinen's cross to make it 4-0. After a few late attempts at goal from United frontman Stroud went begging, the final whistle blew on what had been an excellent season-opener for us. With a resounding victory in the bag, we shot straight up to the top of the table! Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Djokic 4,8, Hreidarsson 74,81) Colchester United - 0 Championship, Attendance 11,760 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 1st, Colchester 24th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Puustinen, Lloyd, Darvill, O'Reilly, Fraser, Barnes (Virgo), Dam (Shelton), Martin, Nixon (Hreidarsson), Djokic. We're going to win the bloody Championship, aren't we?! Okay, okay... maybe I'm being a little premature. Nevertheless, a big win on the opening weekend could bode well for the campaign ahead, so I'm hoping that this marks the start of a truly memorable season.
  7. You didn't get what I said, did you? Football managers can choose the pitch size that they'd prefer, as that can have an impact on their team's home performances, but the pitch pattern is not something they should be concerned with. It's just cosmetic.
  8. I can understand why a manager would choose a pitch size, but I would be interested to see an example of a manager going so far as to choose a pitch pattern. This could be a good idea... if SI ever make Football Groundsman 2018.
  9. JULY 2032 (continued) Our odds of winning promotion from the Championship this season were actually a bit more generous compared to the previous two seasons. William Hill placed us in the top half at 33-1, with the relegated trio of Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton all at 3-1 to go straight back up. (Other bookmakers are available.) You could probably have got odds of 33-1 on us beating Fulham at home in our next pre-season friendly. This was the 19th year in a row in which we'd played our parent club - the previous 18 meetings had seen 16 Fulham wins and two draws, with an aggregate score of 50-7. Would things be different this year, though? The Cottagers only finished 14th in the Premier League last season, and manager Vladimir Weiss was the 13th different coach they had had under the ownership of trigger-happy Dmitrijs Morozs. I don't think the Latvian dictionary has any words for 'stability' or 'continuity'. 17 July 2032: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Fulham Despite our terrible record against Fulham, we weren't afraid to attack them early on in front of a capacity crowd at Victoria Road. Baldur Hreidarsson and Mario Djokic each missed the target in the first six minutes, though they would link up to produce a sublime goal after nine minutes. Baldur nodded the ball long to Mario, who ran at the Fulham defence before smashing in a blistering shot from the edge of the area! In my 10th meeting with the Cottagers, this was the first time I'd ever seen us take the lead against our parent club! Things almost got better still after 20 minutes, when Djokic intercepted a free-kick from Fulham goalkeeper Daniel Lye before it could reach centre-back James Thewlis. Djokic pretty much had a clear target to aim at, but he incredibly pulled his shot beyond the far post. That was a huge let-off for the visitors... and we had one of our own two minutes later, when new Fulham striker Paulo Jorge's diving header went wide. Mario would punish the Cottagers for that miss in the 26th minute. The Montenegrin got past Thewlis to run onto Dean Martin's long pass and slot it beyond the onrushing Lye. We were 2-0 up against filthy-rich Fulham, who retaliated by halving our lead in the 37th minute. Six minutes after hitting the bar from long range, left-back Irakli Kvaratskhelia blasted a low shot past Daryl Ryan to put the Premier League side back in the running. Despite that, we would take them back down a peg after 41 minutes. Mario wrapped up a first-half hat-trick when he ran onto Baldur's flick-on, charged through the Cottagers' defence, and then beat Lye. We would go into the break with a lead over Fulham, although our opponents did pull another goal back in the 44th minute through Paulo Jorge - a £9.5million signing from Real Betis. That second Fulham goal just before half-time would prove to be the game-changer. The bell tolled for our lead four minutes into the second half, when Cottagers full-back Pavel Pavlov's cross was headed home by midfielder Dirk Henrich. Having come back from 3-1 down, the visitors almost took the lead on 54th minute, but Paulo Jorge's header from Victor Berceanu's corner skimmed the crossbar. Berceanu himself would miss a chance in the 56th minute, before Hreidarsson's strike for Dagenham in the 62nd was turned behind by Lye. The second half got a bit tighter after a fast-paced start, and it looked increasingly likely that the scoreline would remain at 3-3. Then Fulham cranked up the pressure in the final 15 minutes. Our substitute goalkeeper Colin Glasgow bravely withstood a couple of shots from Johan van Keulen, but the Northern Ireland youth international couldn't secure what would've been a creditable draw. As the game ticked into the 85th minute, England midfielder Jamie Kerins slid the ball into our penalty area, and Kenan Bingol's cool finish made it "Bingo!" as far as Fulham were concerned. We would have one final opportunity to restore parity in injury time, but Souleymane Nomaou's shot was stopped by the visitors' first-choice goalkeeper Joe Allen. Despite a valiant display from the Daggers, we hadn't quite done enough to end our Cottagers hoodoo. Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Djokic 9,26,41) Fulham - 4 (Kvaratskhelia 37, Paulo Jorge 44, Henrich 49, Bingol 85) Friendly, Attendance 12,000 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryan (Glasgow), Lloyd (Mazzola), Banton (Casey), Wood (Quinn), Puustinen (Pearson), O'Reilly (Shelton), Barnes (Virgo), Fraser (Polomat), Martin (Dam), Hreidarsson (Reynolds), Djokic (Nomaou). BOOKED: Puustinen, Barnes. As if pipping us at the post on the pitch wasn't enough, Fulham would cruelly do that to us again off it. We were all set to sign Italy Under-19s midfielder Leo Cortesi, who'd recently been released by Inter Milan... until our parent club dove in at the 11th hour with a more lucrative offer that lured him to Craven Cottage. Meanwhile, reserve goalkeeper Colin Glasgow made a short trip across east London to begin a six-month loan spell at Conference Premier side Leyton Orient. As one player left our pre-season camp, John Moser returned to Dagenham to begin his preparations for the new Championship campaign. Moser and his France team had just been knocked out of the European Under-19s Championship at the Group Stage... but George Darvill's England were still in the running. They would take on Holland in the Semi Final, on the same day that we played against the team who finished 9th in last season's Eredivisie. Our opponents were, to give them their full name, Nooit Opgeven Altijd Doorgaan Aangenaam Door Vermaak En Nuttig Door Ontspanning Combinatie Breda. Everybody else just calls them NAC Breda. 21 July 2032: Dagenham & Redbridge vs NAC Breda NAC Breda gave us a couple of scares in the first three minutes. Captain Peter Lemmens had a free-kick saved by Kieran Whalley before midfielder Argjend Todorovski struck the post from distance. NAC's bright start fizzled out after Roy Hendriks' header in the 12th minute was easily caught by Whalley. Tom Virgo missed our first shot at goal a minute later, though our next attack would be rather more successful. After 26 minutes, Souleymane Nomaou met Shaun Powell's right-wing cross with an excellent header. Mo de Winter produced a fantastic fingertip save to keep it out, but a weak interception from Breda defender Jack Piqué allowed Paul Nixon to bury the follow-up. Nixon had given us the lead, and he could've doubled it in the 42nd minute but for an impressive save from de Winter. At the other end, Whalley kept out another Hendriks chance in the 32nd minute to ensure that we would still be in front at the half-time interval. Our new Dutch winger Lars Zandbergen threatened to register an assist against his compatriots in the 47th minute, but his cut-back was fired just over by Nomaou. NAC then replaced their goalkeeper de Winter with Emile van den Dungen, who would make a solid catch from a 56th-minute drive by Jacques Polomat. Meanwhile, Whalley continued to produce the goods in our goal, saving a couple of Ramon de Jong strikes in the 58th and 63rd minutes. We went back on the attack after 65 minutes, as Nixon's header from a left-wing Zandbergen delivery was tipped behind by van den Dungen. Heikki Puustinen swung the resultant corner towards William Barnes at the near post, and our captain headed it against the woodwork. Further chances from our Balkan duo of Velimir Radosavljevic and Mario Djokic went to waste before the latter got a chance to secure victory in injury time. Djokic stepped up to take a 93rd-minute penalty after Piqué had barged into our youth-team centre-half Carl Quinn. Mario blasted the spot-kick emphatically past van den Dungen, and the spoils were ours. NAC Breda may be nicknamed 'De Parel van het Zuiden', but we were the real 'Pearls of the South'! Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Nixon 26, Djokic pen90) NAC Breda - 0 Friendly, Attendance 4,642 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley (Farrell), Banton (Puustinen), Lloyd (Quinn), Moser (Radosavljevic), Mazzola (O'Reilly), Powell (Atta), Virgo (Barnes), Polomat (Martin), Zandbergen (Shelton), Nixon (Honeyball), Nomaou (Djokic). BOOKED: Powell. So... how did George Darvill get on for England's Under-19s in their big Semi Final? Well, George had a fine game personally, but it wasn't enough. Holland scored the decisive goal after 89 minutes as they won 2-1 at the County Ground in Swindon. Darvill was understandably disappointed, but England's exit meant that he could rejoin the Daggers squad in time for our final home friendly against Chelsea. Ard van Peppen's Blues gave us a 5-1 spanking at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup four months ago, but would the outcome be different at Victoria Road? 24 July 2032: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Chelsea Victoria Road was packed for the second weekend in a row, and most of the 12,000 spectators were celebrating a surprise opener for Dagenham after just 41 seconds. It was a moment to remember for Souleymane Nomaou, who slid in his first Daggers goal from the rebound after his initial effort was parried back to him by Chelsea goalkeeper Andreas Schramm! Going behind so quickly clearly rattled the Blues, who weren't anything like their best in the first half. German custodian Schramm had to make a fine save in the 11th minute to prevent Nomaou from giving us a shock 2-0 lead. Schramm also caught a 37th-minute drive from Victor Dam, while our other Nordic star - Icelandic forward Baldur Hreidarsson - sent a couple of shots wide. Baldur did at least pose more of a threat to Chelsea than the Blues did to us. Scottish veteran Derek Halliday and Welsh teenager Callum Lea hardly got any decent service up front for the Premier League giants, who were controlling the ball very well but not piercing it through our defence. If Chelsea's defence was very slow to get going in the first half, they were even more sluggish in the second. The half wasn't even 30 seconds old when full-back Steffen Stampe's slide-tackle on our promising midfielder Dave Hutchinson diverted the ball on to Nomaou. Sol then burst through and slotted the ball past Valentín Castillo, who'd replaced Schramm in the Chelsea goal at half-time. The Nigerien striker thought his afternoon couldn't get better... but in the 50th minute, it did! Dean Martin penetrated the Blues' defence with an incisive ball to Nomaou, who wrapped up his hat-trick and incredibly put us 3-0 ahead! Ard van Peppen's gameplan had fallen apart, and the usually-cool Dutchman started making irrational decisions as he tried to get Chelsea back in contention any which way he could. van Peppen replaced Lea with Patrik Horak after the third goal... but then took the Czech midfielder off six minutes later after he pulled a dreadful shot wide! Apart from a 62nd-minute shot from England defender Christopher Khan that was blocked by Hutchinson, the Blues wouldn't get near our goal again. Midfielder Almir Murtic and right-back Aidan Bobbins would later receive bookings as Chelsea's gameplan completely unravelled. Though Castillo did superbly to prevent Paul Nixon from making it 4-0 after 79 minutes, the Mexican was unable to salvage his team's pride. Three minutes before full-time, Martin's right-wing cross was poked into the net by substitute Mario Djokic, and an unbelievable match finished with us four goals ahead! Chelsea's superstars had been pensioned off, and the Daggers were looking sharper than ever! Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Nomaou 1,46,50, Djokic 87) Chelsea - 0 Friendly, Attendance 12,000 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Duru (Lloyd), Casey (Moser), Darvill (Shelton), Puustinen (Banton), O'Reilly (Moran), Hutchinson (Barnes), Fraser (Honeyball), Dam (Martin), Hreidarsson (Nixon), Nomaou (Djokic). No, your mind is not playing tricks on you. We had beaten the 5th-best team in the country - in fact, we'd absolutely destroyed them! Chelsea couldn't even muster a single shot on target against us! I'd like to say that this was revenge for the pasting we got in the FA Cup Quarter Final. Okay, it was only in a friendly, but a 4-0 win over Chelsea is a result that Dagenham & Redbridge fans will remember for a long, long time!
  10. Sounds an awful lot like FIFA Manager to me. That game had a load of meaningless fluff in it.
  11. JULY 2032 For all that I had achieved during my first decade at Dagenham & Redbridge, the club's greatest ever manager was still, in my eyes, its first manager - John Still. The affable east Londoner took the helm at Dagenham & Redbridge 40 years ago, when the club he was managing at the time - Redbridge Forest - merged with Dagenham FC. Still led the newly-amalgamated Daggers through their first two seasons in the Conference and then moved on to pastures new in 1994. He returned to Victoria Road in 2004 and took them into the Football League for the first time three years later before stepping down in 2014. I was very privileged to meet John, now aged 82 and happily enjoying his retirement in Spain, over the summer. He still has great affection for the Daggers and is thrilled to see that they've come so far since I took over. John is also still (pardon the pun) sharp as a tack, and during our meeting, he pointed out that - all being well - I would break his record for the longest continuous reign as Dagenham manager this autumn. I hadn't really thought about that, but it would make me proud if I could surpass the great man. My 11th - yes, ELEVENTH - season in charge at Victoria Road was set to be my most challenging yet. Having finished in the top half of the Championship for three successive campaigns, we now felt that we were ready to make a serious claim for promotion to the Premier League. However, it remained to be seen how we would fare without our inspirational captain and record goalscorer Mark West, who had retired in April. We did, though, have four new players - defender Velimir Radosavljevic, wingers Steven Shelton and Lars Zandbergen, and target man Paul Nixon. Actually, no... you could make that five, depending on if you would call a returning face a 'new' signing. Much to the delight of his many fans at Dagenham, Baldur Hreidarsson had indeed returned for a second loan spell from West Ham United. The now 21-year-old Icelander scored 14 goals for the Daggers last season, and I'm hoping he can continue to deliver the goods this term. If things go well, don't rule out the possibility of us signing Baldur permanently next summer. Hreidarsson's return to Victoria Road meant that Derek Wright's first-team breakthrough would have to be postponed... at least for another six months. Instead, the 19-year-old striker would spend the first half of this season on loan at League One side Scunthorpe United instead. I was now reasonably happy with my squad, although I still had a couple of additional signings in mind. More on them a bit later. Notably, our squad would be missing a couple of centre-backs for most if not all of pre-season. George Darvill and John Moser had respectively been called up by England and France for the European Under-19s Championship, which would begin in England in the middle of July. In terms of our pre-season friendlies, I went for quality over quantity when sorting out our schedule. I thought that playing eight games in pre-season had contributed to slow starts to our last couple of Championship campaigns. I therefore chose to only arrange six friendlies this time - two against Premier League giants, three against Football League sides, and one against a team from the Dutch Eredivisie. There would be no tour abroad for us this summer, and that was largely because we couldn't afford to arrange one at the time. Instead, we would start pre-season by heading west to meet a couple of decent Football League opponents. Oxford United very nearly joined us in the Championship last spring, when they finished 3rd in League One and lost in the Play-Off Semi Finals. Steve King ended his 17-season reign as Oxford manager after their play-off heartache, and he was succeeded by 33-year-old former U's right-back Neil Brown. Regular followers of our progress might recall that we won all four of our meetings against Oxford during our League One days, including an astonishing 7-0 demolition at the Kassam Stadium. Our return there would surely not be so one-sided. 10 July 2032: Oxford United vs Dagenham & Redbridge Matthew Fraser took the game to Oxford early on, flighting a free-kick just over their bar after just nine minutes. Three minutes later, a brilliant run across United's penalty area saw Fraser get to Joel Honeyball's corner delivery and head it into the net. Our opening goal could've been followed by another in the 14th minute, but Dam's close-range header was parried by Oxford goalkeeper Conor McKeown. Welsh winger Shaun Powell was unlucky not to bury the rebound for us before he was stopped by a vital tackle from Christian Colton. We did go 2-0 up in the 25th minute, when American defender Zola Casey connected with Victor's flick-on and half-volleyed in a clinical finish. By the 35th minute, we were already coasting towards victory. Mario Djokic's excellent solo run towards the Oxford area was halted by a tackle from U's midfielder William Burgess, but the ball went loose, leaving Paul Nixon with an easy finish for his first Dagenham goal! Oxford should have claimed a goal back in the 42nd minute, but star striker Reis Collins somehow hit the post after gliding past a slide tackle from Casey. Daryl Ryan then secured the ball to ensure that we would go into the interval with a comfortable 3-0 lead. Nixon could've followed up his debut goal with an assist for Djokic in the 48th minute, but Mario's shot was charged down by Oxford winger Cledan Price. Shortly after that, Ryan made his first real save of the match - a simple catch from Collins' header. Daryl would not have to do much more work in this match, as the U's really were useless when going forward. Their best chance to claim a goal back came from 17-year-old Henry Greenwood, who - like Collins - thumped the post after 59 minutes. Colin Allen then sent a volley over our crossbar in the 78th minute as United made an underwhelming start to life under new manager Neil Brown. Our second-half performance also left plenty to be desired, as we only had one shot on target - a Baldur Hreidarsson header that was caught by Oxford's substitute keeper Justin Morgan on 70 minutes. Midfielder Dean Martin then came off with a knock eight minutes from the end of what was a fairly straightforward victory for us. Oxford United - 0 Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Fraser 12, Casey 25, Nixon 35) Friendly, Attendance 3,158 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryan (Whalley), Puustinen (Banton), Lloyd (Duru), Casey (Radosavljevic), O'Reilly (Mazzola), Powell (Atta), Fraser (Virgo), Dam (Martin (Reynolds)), Honeyball (Zandbergen), Nixon (Hreidarsson), Djokic (Egueh). BOOKED: Honeyball. After an impressive three-goal win, three players signed long-term contracts with the Daggers. Left-back Rocco Mazzola and forward Joel Honeyball agreed to extend their stays at Victoria Road until at least 2035 and 2036 respectively. As for the third player to agree terms with us, he was a brand-new acquisition. Former Celtic striker Souleymane Nomaou had been brought in to strengthen our attacking options. The 28-year-old is very pacey, and a cool and composed finisher, so he could potentially be a fantastic signing for us. 'Sol' was born in Niger, for whom he has scored 23 goals in 33 international matches, but he grew up in north London and came through Tottenham Hotspur's youth academy. Just hours after signing a two-year deal with us, Nomaou joined the Daggers squad in Gloucestershire for a match against Cheltenham Town. The Robins had finished 10th in League Two in each of the last two seasons. 13 July 2032: Cheltenham Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge Our first attack fizzled out after two minutes, when Dave Hutchinson's right-wing cross was caught by Mitchell Strevens. The Cheltenham goalkeeper then hoisted the ball long to Mitch Calcutt, who nodded it ahead of his strike partner Daniel Bastow. The teenage forward coasted past our rookie centre-back Velimir Radosavljevic and then drilled Cheltenham into an unexpected early lead. That was a real shock to our system, and when Baldur Hreidarsson headed over a great chance to equalise on 10 minutes, it looked like this would be a surprisingly difficult evening for us. A minute later, though, we were breathing a bit easier. Jacques Polomat sent a free-kick over to Hutchinson, whose centre was slid into the net by Nigel Atta for the equaliser. Hutch was unlucky not to register another assist in the 13th minute. The 17-year-old threaded a lovely ball forward to skipper Joel Honeyball, whose strike was parried by Strevens. Strevens made another big save in the 20th minute from Hreidarsson, whose next couple of attempts at goal were rather less threatening. The first half had generally been disappointing for us, and particularly for Velimir, who didn't bounce back from his early lapse and was subbed during the interval. I brought on four substitutes in total before the second half got underway. One of them was Paul Nixon, who headed Shaun Powell's corner into Strevens' hands on 47 minutes. Four minutes later, Nixon broke away from the Robins defence to run onto a fabulous through-ball from Polomat. The Northern Irishman only had to beat Strevens... but he blasted his shot horribly over the crossbar! That would be a big turning point, as Cheltenham went back into the lead after 56 minutes. The excellent Calcutt found Robins right-winger Daniel Perrin, who dribbled through a huge gap in the Dagenham defence before slipping the ball underneath Kieran Whalley. I switched things around massively soon after we went 2-1 down, bringing on a number of key players - and new signing Souleymane Nomaou - in a bid to turn the game around. Meanwhile, Cheltenham's attempts to hold onto their lead suffered a blow when midfielder Ryan Blower tore his hamstring just before the half-hour. We started to control the game a bit more in the final 30 minutes, though our shooting continued to disappoint. Nixon was unable to direct a promising shot towards goal in the 72nd minute, while Nomaou's half-volley in the 77th went straight into Strevens' hands. Sol did get another shot on target after 79 minutes, but Strevens tipped that one over the bar and condemned the Niger international to a losing Daggers debut. Although man of the match Calcutt dislocated his shoulder towards the end, League Two Cheltenham had done brilliantly to record a shock 2-1 win. Cheltenham Town - 2 (Bastow 3, Perrin 56) Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Atta 11) Friendly, Attendance 1,819 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley (Ryan), Banton (Puustinen), Radosavljevic (Lloyd), Casey (Wood), Mazzola (O'Reilly), Hutchinson (Dam), Virgo (Fraser), Atta (Powell), Polomat (Nomaou), Hreidarsson (Nixon), Honeyball (Shelton). BOOKED: Atta, Radosavljevic. We had 21 shots at goal in that game, but only a third of them were on target. Conversely, Cheltenham scored with two of their three attempts. An inability to convert chances was a big reason why we missed out on the play-offs last season, so we had to sharpen up our shooting if this campaign wasn't to go the same way.
  12. I'm really glad you like them, Neil. To be honest, I probably enjoy writing the season round-ups more than anything else - it's a great way to fully immerse myself in the game world at large, even when events do become more and more unrealistic (England beating the Germans on penalties, for one thing ). I'm on a roll here at the moment, so no break for me - I'll start posting up the new season tomorrow morning*! * If I remember, of course. To tell you the truth, I had completely forgotten about the Euro 2032 roundup until a couple of hours ago. That's probably because I'd spent a lot of this weekend writing content for a couple of new FM stories, which you might be seeing in the not-too-distant future...
  13. UEFA European Championship review: Norway 2032 Qualification Germany went tantalisingly close to flawlessly going through qualification with a 100% win rate and no goals conceded... but then they drew their final game 1-1 at Serbia. The Mannschaft did, though, top the goals chart with 45, a third of which were scored by Barcelona's Thomas Weber. France, Portugal and Spain also dropped only two points en route to the finals, with holders Holland and Gianluca Atzori's Italy going through unbeaten as well. Clive Johnson was once again outstanding for England, whose only blip came in an early defeat against former champions Czech Republic. The Czechs also qualified automatically, but Israel - surprise Semi Finalists in 2028 - needed to get through a play-off against Wales. Slovenia were beaten in their play-off by the Serbs, while Scotland and 2004 winners Greece missed out altogether. Georgia followed up their FIFA World Cup debut in 2030 by finishing 2nd in France's group to make their first European finals. There was a welcome return for Ukraine after they missed the last three major tournaments, and Bulgaria qualified for the first time since 2020. QUALIFIERS: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Georgia, Germany, Holland (holders), Israel, Italy, Latvia, Norway (hosts), Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine. Group Stage Holland started their title defence with a comfortable 3-1 win over Israel and a draw against neighbours Belgium. However, they lost their final Group A game to Turkey, who topped the group at their expense. UEFA Euro 2028's beaten finalists England also found the going quite tough. After squandering a 2-0 lead late on against Austria, the Three Lions finished 3rd in Group B behind Italy and Sweden. Amazingly, Italy smashed the Swedes 9-0 in the match that decided top spot, with Paris Saint-Germain's Moreno Pinardi getting a hat-trick! Group C was amazingly tight, with France and Russia registering the only victories against whipping boys Slovakia to scrape through. Meanwhile, Group D saw 2014 FIFA World Cup champions Ukraine return to something resembling their best form. The Zhovto-Blakytni went through unbeaten alongside former European champions Czech Republic, but hosts Norway could only finish 3rd and were facing an early exit. Weber scored six goals as Germany breezed through Group E without dropping any points or conceding any goals. Nando Ribas and Spain also breezed through to Round 2, even after losing their final group game 2-0 to the Mannschaft. Finally, Portugal won Group F just ahead of free-scoring Croatia, despite slipping up against debutants Georgia after their qualification had been secured. England were the pick of the four 3rd-placed teams who qualified for the next round. Israel, Denmark and Switzerland made it through as well, although Norway missed the cut and were kicked out of their own party. GROUP A: Turkey* (1st, 6 pts), Holland* (2nd, 4 pts), Israel* (3rd, 4 pts), Belgium (4th, 2 pts). GROUP B: Italy* (1st, 6 pts), Sweden* (2nd, 4 pts), England* (3rd, 4 pts), Austria (4th, 2 pts). GROUP C: France* (1st, 5 pts), Russia* (2nd, 5 pts), Denmark* (3rd, 3 pts), Slovakia (4th, 1 pt). GROUP D: Ukraine* (1st, 7 pts), Czech Republic* (2nd, 5 pts), Norway (3rd, 2 pts), Latvia (4th, 1 pt). GROUP E: Germany* (1st, 9 pts), Spain* (2nd, 6 pts), Switzerland* (3rd, 3 pts), Serbia (4th, 0 pts). GROUP F: Portugal* (1st, 6 pts), Croatia* (2nd, 6 pts), Bulgaria (3rd, 3 pts), Georgia (4th, 3 pts). * through to Round 2 Round 2 Sweden's hopes of winning a first European title were nuked by Gokhan Nukan, who sent Turkey through with a 21st-minute goal. However, the Turks' young right-back Ikram Polat was sent off after half an hour, meaning that he would be suspended from a Quarter Final against his native Germany. The Mannschaft had dismantled Croatia 6-0, with Weber and Real Betis midfielder Andrzej Wolanski helping themselves to a couple of goals apiece. Brescia striker Federico Francese's 9th-minute opener for Italy was cancelled out in the 78th minute by Denmark frontman Jacob Broe. That tie came down to a penalty shoot-out, in which 34-year-old Danish defender Per Moller fired the decisive penalty against the crossbar. The Azzurri moved on to a Quarter Final meeting with Portugal, who recovered from an early Dudu Ashkenazi goal to beat Israel. Porto striker Rui's strike in the 22nd minute was followed up by two in the second half from Benfica's Marco António Freire as Portugal triumphed 3-1. Holland were still going strong after beating Spain 4-2 thanks to doubles from Hassan Ben Ayad and Johan van Keulen. This match marked a sad international farewell for Spanish legend Ribas, who scored his 160th goal in his 171st and final cap. The Oranje's triumph saw them set up a repeat of the Euro 2028 Final against England, who ended France's challenge with a single second-half goal from Johnson. Ukraine's mini-revival was brought to a shuddering halt with a 3-1 loss to Switzerland. 22-year-old Franz Gessler scored twice for a Swiss team managed by Johan Djourou, with defender Théo Forster also getting on the scoresheet. Russia rounded off Round 2 by eliminating the Czech Republic. Two goals from Brazilian-born left-winger Joaozinho were enough to fire the Russians into the Quarter Finals. RESULTS: Turkey 1-0 Sweden, Germany 6-0 Croatia, Italy 1-1 Denmark (5-4 penalties), Portugal 3-1 Israel, Holland 4-2 Spain, England 1-0 France, Switzerland 3-1 Ukraine, Russia 2-0 Czech Republic. Quarter Finals Although Burkay Bosnak gave Turkey the lead against Germany after just four minutes, this Quarter Final would not have a happy ending for the Crescent-Stars. Wolanski retaliated for the Germans in the 14th minute, and an 89th-minute volley from Nikola Markovski of Real Sociedad sent them through. Also through to the last four were Italy, who showed their penalty prowess again. Francese cancelled out Diogo Dias' early strike for Portugal in normal time, and he would also score the decisive spot-kick, following misses from Seleccao duo Casca and Luis Sá. England got revenge on Holland in a thrilling 3-2 victory that began with an 8th-minute goal from Norwich City's Ray Scott. Johnson then scored his 99th and 100th goals for the Three Lions, although Dutch keeper Patrick Braspenning saved a penalty from the Arsenal striker in between them. Both of the Oranje's goals came from Ben Ayad, who finished on seven for the tournament. Switzerland booked the final Semi Final spot by defeating Russia 4-2. Gabriel Steffen scored twice, with Gessler and captain Jonas Fischli also on target. RESULTS: Germany 2-1 Turkey, Italy 1-1 Portugal (4-2 penalties), England 3-2 Holland, Switzerland 4-2 Russia. Semi Finals There were four goals in the first half when Germany faced Switzerland at Tromso. Weber and Markus Pickel found the net for the Mannschaft, while Forster and Tobias Wirtz struck for Switzerland, who had midfielder Albert Danaj sent off just before half-time. Despite being a man light, they still managed to take the game to extra-time... and then the Germans took full control. Harald Burkhard's 92nd-minute header and a 112th-minute penalty from Dominic Feldkamp ensured that Thomas Tuchel would lead Germany into a first European final since 2016. 2026 FIFA World Cup finalists Italy and England renewed their rivalry when they played the second Semi Final in Drammen. It was the Azzurri who drew first blood through Angelo Di Rocco in the 25th minute, but their hopes suffered a major blow when winger Pinardi suffered a dead leg early in the second half. The Three Lions roared back after 81 minutes through Scott, and captain Johnson then sealed the win in typical fashion after 89. England were through to a fourth successive major Final - and their first under new head coach Nemanja Covic. RESULTS: Germany 4-2 Switzerland (aet), England 2-1 Italy. Final The Oslo International Arena was the setting for what proved to be a feisty Final between Germany and England. Slovenian referee Mitja Zigante had to constantly blow his whistle to stop play, and in the 31st minute, he was forced to draw out his red card. Real Madrid midfielder Denis Schumacher received a second booking after elbowing Scott Winterburn, and Germany were down to 10 men. The Mannschaft would be under the cosh from then on, and their cause wasn't helped when striker Martin Klonz tore his hamstring early in the second half. Despite that, England couldn't take advantage, and a host of misses meant the game was still goalless after 90 minutes. Extra-time was similarly scrappy, as the Three Lions got stuck in with some rough tackling of their own. Germany lost another key player - Markus Bieber - to another torn hamstring just before the battle of Oslo was decided on penalties. Three or four decades ago, the outcome would've been obvious, but not so here. With the scores level at 3-3 after four kicks each, Arsenal's Lloyd Mulvaney scored to put England on the brink of glory. Andy Boyes then saved from Hamburg left-back Emerson to ensure that the world champions would be crowned kings of Europe! After beating the Germans on penalties for the first time ever, England got their first opportunity to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy, with captain Johnson doing the honours. 41-year-old Serbian mastermind Covic added yet another major title to his growing CV, and he'll definitely be staying on for a tilt at the 2034 FIFA World Cup in Argentina. Could England - now unquestionably the number 1 team in international football - really make it a record three World Cup wins in a row? RESULT: England 0-0 Germany (4-3 penalties). Award Winners Best Player: Andrzej Wolanski (Germany). Golden Boot: Thomas Weber (Germany, 9 goals). Best Goal: Mijo Djuzel (Croatia, vs Bulgaria - Group Stage). Dream Team: Dawid Wisniewski (Germany), Philipp Janker (Germany), Christopher Khan (England), Harald Burkhard (Germany), Benjamin Ayhan (Germany), Gabriel Steffen (Switzerland), Andrzej Wolanski (Germany), Jonas Fischli (Switzerland), Olexandr Gonchar (Ukraine), Hassan Ben Ayad (Holland), Thomas Weber (Germany).
  14. At least there is one decent Arsenal team right now.
  15. Most certainly not. That team would not have caved in so easily or displayed the sort of Keystone Cops defending that led to Albion's second goal. Come to think of it, it seems to me that the one player from that legendary team from the early to mid-2000s that Arsene Wenger never truly replaced was Patrick Vieira. He sold him to Juventus near enough 12 years ago, and we've not had a proper all-action, I'll-die-before-we-lose hardman in our midfield since then. You could argue that a fair chunk of our problems stem from Vieira's exit.