A country needs you!

  1. A country needs you!

    Hello all! This isn't quite 'Your Country Needs You' as it's not my country I've chosen! As it is, I'm preparing to take South Africa into the World Cup 2018 having got them qualified past Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde!

    This is my first attempt at an FM story so be kind and hopefully I'll unveil the story of Bafana Bafana at the World Cup!

    To begin with, here is the squad. In the next post, I'll talk through the key players for each position!

    A country needs you!-squad.jpg

  2. The Key Players
    Here are the key players for each position from back to front. I hope these four will help become the spine and key to South Africa’s progress at the forthcoming World Cup!

    Goalkeeper: Itumeleng Khune, 30, Kaiser Chiefs
    Khune has been my starting GK since the save began. The Kaiser Chiefs stalwart is a 4-star rated player so I’m hoping not may goals will get past him during the tournament!

    Defender: Rivaldo Coetzee, 21, Manchester City
    Having been picked up by Manchester City and then loaned around across the last couple of seasons, Coetzee is building up a level of experience ahead of his years. Here’s hoping he can make the best use of this and secure our backline.

    Midfielder: Percy Tau, 24, Mamelodi Sundowns
    Tau burst onto the national scene via the African Championship of Nations in January. Since then, he’s made the right wing position his own. With a love of bursting forward and getting down the right hand side, the nation will be expecting him to take the game to the opposition.

    Striker: Dino Ndlovu, 28, Qarabag FK
    Ever since I took over the South African team, this man has been filling his boots as the country’s main striker. With 3 goals in 7 appearances so far this year, the South African fans will be hoping this well-travelled striker lights up the world stage.

    So there we have it. These are the four players I hope will light up the tournament. Next up, the traditional warm-up friendlies against Syria and Slovenia…

  3. A country needs you!-4-0.jpg

    Put ahead by Keegan and Tau linking up within 18 seconds, this turned out to be a warm-up cruise. A thunderbolt by Kekana doubled the lead and South Africa were 3-0 up by half-time. This meant that there could be the inevitable range of second-half substitutions but there was still chance for striker Ndlovu to finish the game.

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    Midfield thunderbolts are where it’s at! A really topsy-turvy game sees South Africa go 1 -0 down early on through a free kick before getting a 2 -1 lead at half-time. Slovenia weren’t done though and equalised early on in the second 45. Despite dominating shots and chance creation, it looked like the game would finish level until midfielder Phiri unleashed a stunner to win the game in injury time.

    Next up … The World Cup! Now the pundits have been keen to point out how lowly ranked we are; there are no South Africa players in the potential Golden Boot or Best Player list and we're still a bit surprised to be there. But we will do our best! One game at a time ...

  4. Group A Game 1
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    For most of our opening World Cup game, this was a comfortable encounter. We ran Iran ragged, creating chances to score regularly. Tau was at the heart of most the action and was in the right place at the right time to score following some penalty box pinball. In the second half, he laid the ball on for substitute Zungu to score. The game should have been plainsailing from then on but a late soft penalty meant that Iran got their consolation goal towards the end.

    A country needs you!-game-1-group.jpg

    So we finish the first round of games top of our group and we're already defeating pundits' predictions that we'd be lucky to get a respectable score in the tournament. However, the next two games don't look so easy as we face tournament favourites France and hosts Russia ...
    Last edited by RaySunshine; 12/08/2018 at 12:35 PM.

  5. Group A Game 2
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    A game where we were totally outplayed. The same XI as played against Iran lined up here but right from the off, France had control . We simply couldn’t cope with the likes of Martial and co running the wings. Khune also didn’t have his best day between the sticks and the net result was we were well beat.

    A country needs you!-game-2-group.jpg

    So it all comes down to the last game and the hosts, Russia…

  6. Group A Game 3

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    And that’s it! Russia started on the front foot and got an early goal to set them on their way. When Ndovlu scored his well-deserved world cup goal and put us level I thought we were back in the game. But then Russia scored again and we simply imploded. Everyone in a gold shirt simply stopped running. Both full-backs and centre-halves just let the ball go past them and we shipped 4 goals in 9 minutes. All of my responses were becoming more Pearce-esque by the minute (aggressively demanding more) and, following a half-time hair-dryer, we at least won the second half. But it wasn’t enough.

    A country needs you!-game-3-group.jpg

    I congratulate the team on competing in the World Cup and tell them that from now on, they won’t be a team to just make up the numbers. Little do they know however, that I’m already casting my eye around for any managerial casualties from the tournament and higher-ranked countries willing to take me on…

  7. A country needs you!-flag.png

    And it’s Belgium that take me on! Despite South Africa having a goal difference of -10 by the end of the World Cup, they feel I’m the man. Many might say this is a much easier job but things haven’t been going well. Unlike real life, Belgium’s World Cup didn’t end with any sort of medal. They failed to win so much as a single point in their group and crashed out having only scored one goal – and that was a Hazard penalty.

    A country needs you!-wc-group.png

    So my aim is to take on the golden generation for the rest of their time and improve their performance in the next World Cup (Mission 1 is keep the job that long!) To help me in achieving this, I’ve shaken up the backroom staff a little. Martinez and Wigan stalwart Graeme Jones leaves his job as assistant manager and is replaced by 66 year-old German Peter Hermann who has been an assistant at most of Germany’s big clubs at one point or another in the last ten years. Also, Charleroi coach Rudy Heylen joins the team. Both have high skills for judging a player’s ability which will help me in selecting the best individuals out there to put on the national shirt.

    Last edited by RaySunshine; 13/08/2018 at 10:40 PM.

  8. In
    Witzsel, Bongonda, Batshuayi, Janssens, Svilar

    Carrasco, Benteke, Castagne, Sels

    So I choose my squad without making too many changes to the one that played in the World Cup. Carrasco misses out through injury and I decided to chance my arm with Bathshuayi as my second striker rather than Benteke. The other two changes are bringing two young players who show good potential to succeed in the future. The captain is also changed with Spurs CB Alderweireld taking the armband and Roma’s Nainggolan becoming VC.
    Overall, I’m happy with the squad but it does feel thin in areas – especially both full back positions. Some scouting will be in order ahead of the next squad I think.

    7.09.18 European League Div. A, Grp 4
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    So in my first game as Belgium manager, we gain a comfortable win. The team dominated the game from start to finish and the possession stat of 34% shows that Sweden barely got a touch of the ball. To begin with, our chances were limited to Mertens making long-range efforts but we got better as the game went on. Both goals scored were rebounds but that takes nothing away from De Bruyne in particular who smashed his rebound in on the volley from the edge of the box. This seems like a good start!

    11.09.18 European League Div A, Grp 4
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    France – I just can’t beat them! In my three encounters with France in the last 12 months, I’ve lost all of them. But this was, understandably, the closest of the three games. Both sides created few chances in what was a cagey affair for the most part. We were undone by one sublime passing move which ended in Digne’s perfect cross picking out Greizmann in a crowd of players to finish. We opened up and pushed on a bit as the second half wore on but couldn’t really create anything of note. My first defeat in my new job and the end of this international window…

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  9. The next international window begins with only one change to the overall squad. Carrasco has recovered from injury and so he takes his place at the expense of Fiore. We now play Argentina in a friendly before facing Sweden away in the Nations’ League …

    10.10.18 Friendly
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    For the first time in this save, I decided to experiment with a different formation – 3-5-2. I felt like my teams have always been soundly beaten by stronger opposition so I wanted to see if I could shore things up a bit. Well … it worked. The possession we had plunged but we had more shots than Argentina and got the game’s only clear-cut chance. The fact that our goal was a corner and that they had another goal disallowed worries me a bit. I’ll keep experimenting in friendlies as we go. Are the full-backs I’ve got available good enough for this formation?

    16.10.18 European League Div. A, Grp 4
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    This started off tough as Sweden got an early goal and we looked to be well off the pace. But, having been worried about full-back quality in the last game, Menuier seemed keen to prove me wrong by suppling a huge looping cross for Carrasco to head home. As the game went on, we got stronger and stronger and then Axtzel released Hazard who burst forward and squared the ball for Batshuayi to smash the winner home.

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  10. 14.11.18 Friendly
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    So I decided to try the 3-5-2 again. The result was similar. We were tight at the back and restricted Jamaica to one clear-cut chance in the game. But it also stilted us going forward. Despite the instruction to exploit the flanks, most of the play went down the middle and we didn’t create as much as I’d like – 1 clear-cut chance and 5 half-chances. Nevertheless, it shores us up at the back and that might help against France …

    20.11.18 European League Div. A, Grp 4
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    Some big calls had to made… but it worked. To begin with, I decided to stick with the 3-5-2 and it did the desired job. We kept a clean sheet and France only had one clear-cut chance in the game. Going forward, the biggest call I made was dropping Hazard (E). I’d made him a false 9 in the last two games playing this formation but it really didn’t suit him and so, with no wing positions or AMC in this formation, he had to stay on the bench. It’s the sort of call that gets you sacked if you get it wrong but this time it worked! France dominated possession at the start of the game but we kept them limited to long-range efforts or shots from tricky angles. After that, we gradually upped our share of possession as the game went on and when Lukaku found De Bruyne on the edge of the box, the midfielder slammed home a confident volley. France kept pushing but couldn’t break us down. Courtois making an amazing close-range save from Dembele the one time that they broke through our lines at the end. So there we go and onto the semi-finals of this brand new competition…

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  11. 30.03.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    So qualification begins with a routine win. Facing an easier opponent, the team returns to 4-2-3-1. The play is easy and confident and we dominate possession throughout, finishing with over 60%. Each of the goals is also the result of smooth passing moves. For the first, the ball is threaded through to Lukaku whose slide-rule pass is smashed home by De Bruyne from 25 yards. The second goal sees Carrascco split the Denmark defence and, when put through 1-on-1 Lukaku makes no mistake. Carrasco also supplies the third through a left-side cross which Lukaku volleys home from the edge of the box. Job done.
    02.04.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    This is a comfortable in which Lukaku stars. To begin with, Luxembourg set up defensively aiming to shut us out as far as possible and their keen to throw their bodies on the line, making an impressive number of blocks throughout the match. Lukaku was our key to open them up though. He finishes with 2 goals and an assist. The first goal comes when a rebound falls to Vertonghan just outside the box. He threads the ball through to Lukaku who finishes comfortably. Goal 2 is a long ball up to the striker who brings it down, beats his man and then side-foots it for De Bruyne to finish. There is then Lukaku’s second and Fellaini goal from a corner to finish things off.

    Two wins out of two and we’re top of the group …
    A country needs you!-euro-quals-win-1.png

  12. The next international window sees us playing Germany in the Nations’ League Semi Final…

    14.06.19 European International League Semi-Final
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    We put out again as 3-5-2 and again make the big call of dropping Hazard for the game. The team are on the backfoot from the beginning but the formation does mean that for all of Germany’s possession and shots, they’re not creating clear-cut chances. They are however creating half-chances. Just before the 70th minute, we make a clearance, Kimmich hammers the ball back in to the far post and Volland rises highest to smash a header home. We then switch formation and bring Hazard on. We do create a couple of late chances but miss both of them. Our campaign is over.

    18.06.19 Friendly
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    This friendly gives me chance to play my old team who were asking for me to come back not too long ago. We control the game comfortably and two early chances fall our way. Hazard finishes both and we control the game from then on. The game feels all in aid of Hazard becoming Belgium’s record goal-scorer. It’s just a matter of time …

  13. 05.09.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    This is a comfortable performance in front of the home fans. Playing 4-2-3-1 again, Hazard simply takes them apart. We dominate possession and shots and the goals all come in a ten minute flurry just before half-time. With one of the goals and one of the assists, Hazard finishes with a rating of 9.0. On we go…

    08.09.19 – Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    … and here we stop! With Lukaku firing us ahead, I thought this was going to be a simple win. But the team had other ideas. Despite my half-time warnings, we let two easy goals in and Bulgaria take the lead. Nothing we can do after finds the back of the net and we end up with a defeat in a game that we really should have won. I hope it doesn’t cost us later!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails A country needs you!-euro-quals-win-1.png  
    Last edited by RaySunshine; 22/08/2018 at 01:25 PM.

  14. 11.10.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    A shock draw here. Denmark take the lead early on and I worry that we’re going to finish up with another defeat. Denayer fires home a corner-equaliser and I start to calm down only for the team to ease up and let in a soft goal. Everyone is pushed forward as the game comes towards its finish and in the last few seconds of injury-time, a corner is flicked out to Nainggolan who then fires straight into the back of the net from 20-odd yards to pinch us a last minute point!

    14.10.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    With the group getter closer and closer, especially after Luxembourg’s surprise win over Bulgaria, we’re keen to get a win and settle things down. And this we duly do. Lukaku takes control of the game and finishes with an impressive hat-trick to lead us in getting the win. The last goal is courtesy of a Luxembourg defender who flicks a cross beyond his own keeper and into the back of his net.

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    It's all very close ahead of the final qualifiying window...

  15. 15.11.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    We missed! Almost every shot was wide – 11 out of 15 in fact. And while we couldn’t score to save our lives, we allow Greece to score 3 at the other end. The group is getting really tight now between us, Bulgaria and Greece. Only two of the countries can qualify for the Euros and it will all come down to the final game …

    18.11.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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    That’s more like it! From an early Hazard goal, we take complete control. They simply can’t stop the Madrid-man and Hazard runs riot with his two goals. Lukaku gets one of the others and De Bruyne’s low cross is sent into the back of the net by a defender. So we qualify for the Euro’s in top place. That tournament will mark half-way on my journey to the next world cup…
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  16. 27.03.20 Friendly
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    The first game of 2020 is the first of two frustrating friendlies. Here things start well when a flicked on corner is sent home by Alderweireld. However, not too long after that, a Nigeria free-kick leads to some penalty-box chaos from the red devils and Nigeria equalise. The second half is even more frustrating as we create chance after chance but fail to put them home.

    31.03.20 Friendly
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    For the second of these friendlies, I’ve chosen a higher-ranked opponent in order to give the 3-5-2 another run-out. This time, it’s back in working order – we limit England’s chances and create a few of our own. The worry is though that we couldn’t finish again. Once Lukaku went off injured midway through the first half, Bathsuayi and Origi missed three glaring opportunities and as a result, England nearly nicked the game with a scrappy corner in injury time but the ball was sent wide of a gaping goal. I also tried Hazard as an MC in the second half. He had a couple of darting runs forward but created very little really.

  17. 03.06.20 Friendly
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    This is the last chance to give 3-5-2 a run-out before the tournament. As has been the case before, the formation allows us to restrict them to few chances and it also has the same effect for us. Out of the two formations on offer, I still feel it’s the best for facing higher-level teams. I just hope we’re the best when it comes to penalties.

    08.06.20 Friendly
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    In what was supposed to be a reassuring pre-tournament goal-fest, we come up short. Many of our players going forward have an off-day, most notably Eden Hazard who produces almost nothing on either flank. In the end, De Bruyne fires in a winner to prevent this becoming a total embarrassment and that is our final game before the real proceedings begin…

  18. So here we are at Euro 2020! It will be interesting to see how we get on and if we can show some promise towards our aim of improving our World Cup performance. There were a few injury worries in the run-up to the tournament but in the end no-one major had to miss out.
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    15.06.18 European Championship Group A
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    What a game! We play the familiar 3-5-2 but, for the first time, it lets us down. We concede 2 goals before half-time and we’re looking into the abyss. At half-time, I change things round, going back to 4-2-3-1 and heading onto the attack. We then go from 2 down to 3-2 up with Hazard on the rampage. But then Italy hit back and score another two to restore their lead. In the final few minutes Witsel gives away a penalty and, with it dispatched, the game is over.

    20.06.18 European Championship Group A
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    Well nothing in this tournament wants to be simple. The game started easily enough with Hazard setting up Lukaku to score. We create chance after chance but fail to put them away (familiar?). At half-time, I warn the team to not to get complacent. We keep creating chances but it’s Northern Ireland who put the goal in. Even after that, we keep creating chances but it looks as if the game will finish level, making things tricky in the group. But, in the last couple of minutes, we get a penalty and Hazard fires it home. In injury-time, Lukaku also scores and his second goal makes him Belgium’s top goal-scorer.

    23.06.20 European Championship Group A
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    At last, a straight-forward win; I made the call of resting both Hazard and Nainggolan for this game as I’ve had experience of the whole squad losing fitness in tournaments with South Africa. Origi got crossed the ball in for Lukaku to score a first-half goal. Once again, I reminded the team to avoid complacency. This time, it worked at we went on to dominate the game and De Bruyne and Lukaku completed the scoring and sent us on to the next round…

  19. 27.06.18 European Championship Second Round
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    I took a chance on resting four first team players for this game as I’d got an easier draw than the top of the group got (Italy v Greece). I’ve found before, in tournaments, that my team don’t recover as well as the ai teams and I wanted as much rest for key players before the quarters as possible. This was disrupted a bit when Carrasco ran into a Georgia player and dislocated his shoulder. Hazard then came on a duly started the scoring. Lukaku scored a smart turn and finish and we were 2-0 up at HT. In the second half, Hazard scored Belgium’s third and the game was over. Alderweiereld gave them a consolation penalty but they were never in the game. Onto the quarters…

    03.07.20 European Championship Quarter Final
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    And that inability to finish costs us dear. We were back to full strength for this one with Origi taking Carrasco’s place on the wing. Throughout the game, we create chance after chance but fail to put them away. And then we go into self-destruct mode. Hazard gives away a soft penalty in a place where he really didn’t need to tackle and then we switch off from a corner and they’re 2-0 up. As we push forward, Serbia undo us with a long ball over the top and we’re 3-0 down. We go to an attacking 3-5-2 with two wingers rather than wing-backs as it allows us to have two up front. Mertens repays with a fine finish but overall it’s too little, too late.

    Overall, I think it was a good tournament. I was disappointed that we didn't have the quality to beat Serbia but it feels like a positive performance all told and I think that it promises well that we can do OK at the next world cup...

  20. So, following a promising Euro's, we return to International League Action in a group with France and Denmark - both teams that we know well from the recent past. We're the middle seed in the group so it would be a turn-up to beat France but we did it last time so you never know

    04.09.20 International League Division A Group 3
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    What a game! A real topsy-turvy match kept everyone on the edge of their seat. We begin the game by taking the lead before France bring it back to 1-1. Lukaku then scores a 9 minute hat-trick to make the score 4-1. Martial then scores so we go into HT at 4-2. In the second half, France turn it on and score another two goals to make it level. Just as I begin to wonder if we’re going to let a famous win slip out of our hands, the youngster, Lenaerts, comes of the bench and scores on his debut to secure that vital win!

    08.09.20 Friendly
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    This game is a close affair that really comes down to finishing. We set up defensively and for most of the first half, we keep Argentina away from our goal and carve out a few chances of our own. But either side of HT, there is first an own goal and then a 25 yard belter from De Paul which gives them a flattering lead. We push forward in the second half but it looks like it will make little difference to scoreline until Hazard flicks the ball over their keeper and into the net in the 90th minute.

  21. 09.10.20 International League Division A Group 3
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    So the next international window starts with an unwanted shock result. We simply weren't at the races in the game and Denmark outplayed us from start to finish. The groups are so small in this tournament that every result really matters so we can't afford many games like this!

    13.10.20 International League Division A Group 3
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    We can take a few more results like this though. We start in the defensive 3-5-2 and France pile on the pressure. To begin with though, we keep them out. It doesn't last though and corner finds its way to Kante. Courtois makes the first save but Laporte is there to tap home the rebound. This forces us to go on the front foot so I switch formation and bring on both Hazard and Carrascco. This does the job as a Hazard cross finds Witzel who scores via Varane and then Carrasco sends us in front with a super chip after being put through by Lukaku.

  22. 17.11.20 International League Division A Group 3
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    This is a one game window. We just needed a draw against Denmark and we would top the group. We get much more than that though. A De Bruyne free kick puts us ahead, Carrasco scores on the end of super passing move by Hazard and Lukaku and then a ball over the top is missed by Kjaer but not by Lukaku who slams home. We're 3-0 up within the half hour and a comfortable win sees us with another semi-final and another game against Germany ...

  23. 26.03.21 World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    Before we get to face Germany in the Europe League semi, we have World Cup qualification to deal with. Our first game, in another single-match window, is against Spain and it sees us worryingly outplayed. Morata leads from the off, giving them the lead within the first 11 mins. From there on, we're no-where near and they go on to score a hatful and we're left with one Hazard goal.

  24. 12.06.21 - World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    Our next window sees us play Kosovo both home and away. For the first of these games, I took the decision to drop Belgium stalwart, Jan Vertonghan. The game against Spain exposed the fact that, by 2021, his pace has dropped to single figures and so I move on. His replacement gets himself sent off though so Jan returns to the field for the second half. Even with ten men though, Kosovo are comfortably beat and we get ready to go over to their place.

    15.06.21 - World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    So Jan gets an internation reprieve thanks to the red card in the previous match. This time, we get the scoring done early thanks to a cute dinked Hazard finish and a Tielemans thunderbolt which is deflected leaving the keeper helpless. At this point, we're top of the group but Spain have a crucial game in hand...

  25. 19.06.21 European Nations League Semi-Final
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    What a turnaround! Conceding a couple of early goals had me fearing the worst along with Lukaku having a mare of a game. At half-time, I brought on the youngster Lenarts and he does the damage with a superb brace. A goal from Origi makes it three and we're through to the final in the most dramatic fashion...

    22.06.21 European Nations League Final
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    And we win - my first silverware on this save! Following a barren few games for Lukaku and his heroics in the last game, I make the big move of starting the youngster up front. This pays off as, just before a tight, tough game goes to penalties, the young striker scores the dramatic goal which hands us a tournament win! Surely this bodes well for the future...

  26. 02.09.21 World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    Our next World Cup game sees us come up againt a tough Estonia side. Our opponents managed to get a draw against Spain so we knew we were in for a hard match. A first half Lenearts strike put us a goal up and at half time I warned not to be complacent. This time, the team responded well and a quickfire brace from the wingers secures the win.

    05.09.21 World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    Over these two games, both Vertonghan and his initial replacemnt have been missing so another youngster, Carlier, has made left back his own. This game was much closer than the final score suggests with Georgia having a potential 87th minute penalty leveller saved. But we survived and on we go to the next window...

  27. 06.10.21 Friendly
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    I took this friendly space as a chance to set up against a team around our level in the rankings. And what a result! We dominate the game from start to finish and move on to our next game.

    09.10.21 World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    So we've been top of the group up till now but only because Spain have had a game in hand. And this is it. Despite us being the home team, they run the match and we never had a look-in. It's clear that we'll finish second in the group but we've still got to do as well as possible to be one of the best second placed teams...

  28. 12.11.21 World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    We need to do as well as possible in these game but Estonia make it tough. It's still 0-0 at half time and it takes our best players to make the break-throughs and give us the win. One more game to go!

    15.11.21 World Cup Qualification Group 8
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    And what a way to finish. We put five goals past Georgia in our last match. This puts us top of the second place teams and so we're going to the World Cup! When I read that Germany had failed to qualify, it sinks in just how lucky we are. Now we can go on to achieve our goal and smash past the team's previous performance.

  29. 25.03.22 Friendly
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    The two March games are both friendlies to allow me to make the final selections before the forthcoming World Cup. Over the last few games, I've noticed that Lenaerts' goalscoring has run dry so I figured that it was time to give Lukaku a chance to win his place back. And how he does it! I'll give Lenaerts a chance in the next game but it looks like it's going to be a tough call.

    29.03.22 Friendly
    A country needs you!-usaw.png
    So the next game comes and Leanarts doesn't really take his chance. Origi does though despite the fact that he's not even playing as the leading striker. As they say, it's the best of the tough decision types a manager can have to face! The next games will be World Cup warm up games.

  30. So before the warm-up friendlies are played, I need to pick the final Belgium squad. In the extended squad, I take a last look at Vertonghan and a first look at the top Belgian League scorer, a young regen, but in the end I decide that neither of them have the quality needed to break into the squad.

    And, as I did for WC 2018, I shall profile the key players for each position in the team.

    A country needs you!-squad.png

    Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois, 30, Chelsea
    In this alternate reality, the Belgian stopper has remained at Chelsea, picking up a Champions' League and EFLCup medal in the years since 2018. He also remains the key stopper for Belgium and is trusted to be man between the sticks for this vital WC game.

    Defender: Toby Alderweireld, 33, Tottenham Hotspur
    And, as above, loyalty seems to be the key. The Spurs vice-captain is still at the club and still managed by Poch. In the years since 2018, the club have been runners up in the FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League. Perhaps this is his best chance for a trophy!

    Midfield: Radja Nainggolan, 34, AS Roma

    The age of each player reveals how Belgium’s golden generation is entering its last chance saloon. It’s also the case that country hasn’t looked like producing a new team capable of matching their achievements. It’s now or never for the squad.

    Wing: Eden Hazard, 31, Real Madrid
    Following an £80 million move to Madrid in 2017/18, Hazard has continued to dominate in the game. At club level, he’s won two la ligas, the champions’ League and the Copa Del Rey. Let’s hope he brings that form into the World Cup.

    Forward: Wim Lenaerts, 21, Chelsea
    This is the key youngster in the Belgian squad. Having made a £37 million move to Chelsea at the beginning of this season, the young striker has found first team football harder to come by but has come to lead the line for his country. Perhaps this tournament can spur him on to greatness.

  31. 31.05.22 Friendly
    A country needs you!-scotw.png
    Two early goals at the end of two smooth passing moves sees our first-choice team win this game at a canter. It still leaves us without either first team striker scoring though. Lenaerts does make his made through a well made crossing assist but I hope this potentially misfiring frontline doesn't cost us dear when we get to the tournament.

    06.06.22 Friendly
    A country needs you!-venl.png
    For this game, I put out the second XI so as not to risk any injuries prior to the tournament. To begin with, things go well and we take a comfortable 2-0 in the 69th mintue. They pull one back through a corner and then the fun really begins. Their equaliser is courtesy of a 25-yard thunderbolt and, from our kick-off, they gain possession, carve our defence apart and score. Not ideal before the tournament!

    So now we march on the World Cup. If you remember, my aim was to restore some Belgian pride following three defeats and a solitary goal in WC18. So ... Here we go...

  32. 13.06.22 World Cup Group E
    A country needs you!-uruw.png
    So is redemption possible in one match? As I said before, the aim here was to restore Belgium's pride in a World Cup and what a way to start! I was nervous about this game as I saw Uruguay and us competing for the same spot to get out of the group but needn't have worried. We scored early and went on to dominate the game comfortably. One more win and we're already out of the group! We also have two early golden boot contenders in our hattrick heroes!

    A country needs you!-group1.png

  33. 18.06.22 World Cup Group E

    A country needs you!-ausw.png
    And that win we need doesn't come easy. Unlike our friendly against the team from down-under, they're ready to play this time and make life hard for us. Part-way through the second half, I even have to Hazard and Lenaerts off as neither of them seem able to break through. This risky moves comes off though as Origi (Hazard's replacement) sends a cross over and a rash Austrailian push sees us win the penalty. With Hazard off the pitch, Carrasco steps up and sends us through to the knockout round. Here we go!

    A country needs you!-group2.png

  34. 23.06.18 World Cup Group E

    A country needs you!-portl.png
    Having qualified with two wins out of two, I put out the reserves here to finish the group stage. We know that a draw will see us top the group and for the first half hour or so, everything is fine. But then, in the next ten minutes, we have a man sent off and Portugal steal a goal on the break just before HT. We open the game up to chase a result and so Portugal secure a second a win the game.

    A country needs you!-group3.png

    So, overall, we finish second in the group behind eventual leaders Portugal. It was always a bit of gamble either way - play the best team and risk tiredness and injuries or play the reserves and risk not topping the group. Let's see what the first knockout round brings...

  35. 27.06.22 World Cup First Knockout Round
    A country needs you!-brazl.png
    And it brings Brazil!And a game of what-might-have-been. The game opens with Firmino shoving Alderweireld over and Belgium getting a penalty. Hazard then shoots to his right but sees it saved. A minute later, Brazil give the ball away from a goal kick and Hazard knocks the ball gently into the Brazil keeper's arms. Ten minutes later, Brazilian left-back, Jorge, opens up our defence and we're a goal down. We go on to chase the game with Lukaku being put through but missing a glaring chance just before HT. We carry on pushing forward after the break but, inevitably, Brazil hit us on the break and it's all over.
    And so this save comes to an end. Belgium are out of the World Cup and, while the Beglian board and media are none-too-impressed with the national team's efforts, I do feel that the team has generally done all right over my four years in charge. I think, if I look back on the save, the there are a few things I'm pretty pleased with:

    World Cup 2018 South Africa 1-2 Iran
    The South Africa team I'd put together weren't even expected to get to this world cup so to get a win here was pretty amazing. It's just a shame that we didn't get any more.

    Euro International League Final 2021 Belgium 1-0 Portugual
    This had to be here as it's my only silverware of the save. A closely-fought final was decided in the last few minutes by a young striker just making his name in the game - fairytale stuff!

    World Cup 2022 Belgium 7-1 Uruguay
    When I saw the group we'd got for the World Cup, I was seriously concerned that Uruguay could beat us out of the group stage. As it was, our opening game of the tournament was an absolute barn-stormer and quite possibly the greatest highlight of my managerial career!

    So, as I said above, this save is now complete! Thanks to everyone that's followed this story. I'd never imagined that I'd have over 1k views even before I'd got to the end of the story. I want to say thanks to DerbyJack who inspired me to write this save and whose general format I've adopted for this. If you've enjoyed following this, it would be great to hear from you. Let me know what you liked and what international challenges you'd like to see me try on FM19! See you out there!

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