One Season In Turin – Part 6

Matt Wills is back with the end of his Turin story. A promotion for Torino was good, but the cast of Italia 90 winning the 98 World Cup would be better. They can’t, can they?! Part 5 is available here.

Here we are, the final part of my Italia 90 meets France 98 odyssey. To bring you up to date, after getting Torino promoted from Serie B with a smattering of former England stars including Lineker and Shilton, I’m now in charge of England, trying not to humiliate myself with the Italia 90 squad. We crept out of our group which included Germany, Cameroon and Japan, Lineker became the alltime top scorer for England and John Barnes got ruled out for 11 months. These aging heroes knocked out Norway in the second round and we are now paired with Tunisia in the quarterfinals.

With you bang up to date, lets get the world in motion.

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A reminder of those other quarter final line ups. Group chums Germany face Nigeria, whilst Brazil and France meet earlier than in real life. Spain vs Italy makes up the 4th slot.

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Quarter Final Match 5 – Friday 3rd July 1998 – Tunisia vs England – La Beaujoire.

Three Lions 98 are at the top of the UK pop charts, Vindaloo by Fat Les is in number two and England are in the quarter finals of the World Cup.

Reality Check – England beat Cameroon 3-2 thanks to two Gary Lineker penalties after almost crashing out of a tie described by Bobby Robson as a ‘bye’.

Tunisia are lining up in a 5-3-2 formation. I must admit, I know little about their team, but they edged out Denmark to qualify from their group behind Nigeria and then put Sweden to the sword in the second round. Sellimi plays for France and Boumnijel is in goal for West ham, but that’s about as far as my knowledge goes.

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I’m sticking with the tried and trusted Direct – 5-3-2 and keep faith with Trevor Steven on the right of my midfield 3. Age is not catching up with anyone yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

That all lasts for 60 seconds when Ben Hassan steals in behind the defence to slot past Shilton to put Tunisia 1-0 up. However, Trabelsi sees a straight red 2 minutes later and I encourage the squad to use the man advantage and control the play. We come level on 7 minutes through a break from Lineker, squaring for Beardsley to get off the mark at the tournament. On the half hour mark, Gazza swings in a free kick for Platt to volley past the West ham stopper and we go into half time with our tales up.

I can see tired faces and minds at half time, so to lighten the mood I get John Barnes to do his rap from World In Motion. Gazza then offers to sing ‘Fog on The Tyne’ but luckily the bell for the second half rings and we are saved.

The second half is a cagey affair and Tunisia start to mount pressure and I can see the players flagging. To freshen things up, I bring on Tony Adams for Mark Wright and Bryan Robson for Trevor Steven to control the midfield. The fresh legs force a corner in the lastminute and Butcher rises highest to settle the match. We’re in the bloody semi-finals!!

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We find out our Semi-Final opponents, Brazil. Bloody Hell.

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In the other quarter final matches, Germany beat Nigeria and Italy squeeze past Spain on penalties.

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We’ve got about 5 days to recover from our exertions against Tunisia. So I order plenty of rest and some light training. This doesn’t stop Gazza and Waddle from nipping out for a ‘few beers’.

Semi Final Match 5 – Wednesday 8th July 1998 – Brazil vs England – Stade Velodrome.

The press back home are full of our heroics at France ’98, we’ve surpassed all expectations, including my own, with a team where the youngest players are 31 (Platt and Gascoigne if you’re wondering) and a goal keeper who is 47 and long overdue his pension.

However, this will surely be our toughest test, the might of Brazil and Ronaldo et al in full flow.

Holders Brazil came untroubled through a group including USA, Eire and Ukraine, before dispatching Colombia and holders France to set up a clash with our England faithful’s.

Our exploits might be heralded back home, but other nations are not too impressed with our journey into the latter stages of the tournament, but I just it as fuel to fire my charges up. One game from the final I tell them, you’re here on merit, let’s do it!

A creature of habit, I’m unwilling to make any changes, so England line up like so:

1 – GK – Peter Shilton – Torino
2 – RWB – Paul Parker – Free Agent
3 – LWB – Stuart Pearce – Newcastle Utd
4 – DC – Des Walker – Sheffield Wednesday
5 – SWDC – Mark Wright – Liverpool
6 – DC – Terry Butcher – Torino
7 – RM – Trevor Steven – Bristol City
8 – MC – David Platt – Arsenal
9 – SC – Gary Lineker – Torino
10 – FC – Peter Beardlsey – Bolton Wanderers
11 – LM – Paul Gascoigne – Glasgow Rangers

On the Bench:

12 – GK – Chris Woods – Burnley
13 – DC – Tony Adams – Arsenal
14 – CM – Bryan Robson – Middlesbrough
15 – RM – Chris Waddle – Burnley
16 – SC – Steve Bull – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Kick Off!

Brazil have the better of the opening 15 minutes and Ronaldo takes advantage of aging legs to power through the defence and blast past a stunned Shilton. Stade Velodrome is a cacophony of Brazilian cheering. It lasts for a minute, as England power down the right hand side through diminutive Paul Parker who lofts a ball into the area, knocked out of play by Zetti. From the corner, Gazza finds the head of Mark Wright and England are level, euphoria!

The euphoria lasts for 18 minutes, as England repel wave after wave of attack, but are finally breached when Denilson spots Shilton off his line and lobs him from the edge of the area.

Not to be outdone, Beardsley pulls us level after some good link play by Platt and Gascoigne. The England fans are in full voice 2 minutes later when Ronaldo his hauled off the pitch. Is he injured? Are they arrogant and resting him for the final? Who knows, but it gives us hope when they replace him with Dunga and not Romario.

Sadness sweeps the England half on 44 minutes though, as Lineker fouls Bruno after a through ball from Platt. Its’ a yellow card. Gary’s 2nd of the tournament. He’ll miss the final, if we make it. He starts to well up. Gazza speaks to him and then motions to the bench to keep an eye on him, what a lad.

Half Time.

It’s 2-2. Ronaldo is off the pitch physically, but I fear Lineker might be mentally. Keep your head I tell him, get us to the final. Do it for the fans, do it for Des Lynam. Do it for Willie Thorne!

Gary listens and on the 51st minute, he scores his 51st England goal and puts us 3-2 up in the semi-final of the world cup against Brazil – amazing scenes!

Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets. These players are knackered, and Brazil flex their muscle, scoring 3 goals without reply to win 5-3. I bring Steve Bull on for Beardsley after the 5th goal, but to no avail. There will be no fairytale ending to this story, but I am beyond proud.

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Reality Check – England suffered the agony of penalties against West Germany but returned to England as heroes, as they will do once more.

In the other semi-final, Italy beat Germany 1-0 to set up a repeat of the 1994 final.

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But what of our England heroes? Well, we have one more game, the 3rd place playoff against Germany to deal with before we head home.

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3rd Place Playoff Match 6 – Saturday 11th July 1998 – England Vs Germany – Parc des Princes.

After the highs of the tournament, this is the game no-one wants to be in, after going so close to the final, but it’s there to be played and a chance for the stars of Italia 90 to exact a modicum of revenge against Germany.

I make a few changes to the line-up for this match, bringing Bully in for the suspended Lineker, move Pearce into the 3 man defence and play Dorigo at left wing back. Finally, Chris Waddle replaces Trevor Steven on the right of midfield.

We give Germany a bloody good game, helped somewhat by Jurgen Kohler getting sent for a very early bath. Wright and Waddle cancel out an early Klinsmann strike but we can’t make the extra player count and with 10 minutes to go, concede to a Stefan Freund free kick and after a goalless extra time, the match goes to penalties.

Unbelievably, Shilton guesses right twice to save from Klinsmann and Thon and look who is on had to smash in our fourth penalty and give us the bronze medals…..?

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Reality Check – At Italia 90, England lost to Italy 2-1 after some awful fumbling from Shilton.

Over to the final, and Italy exact revenge on Brazil, Paolo Maldini winning it for Italy with a golden goal after Del Piero cancelled out Ronaldo in the first half.

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So there we have it. England return to, well, England as Heroes, the stars of Italia 90 not quite going one better than in 1990, but surely doing the nation proud.

I never honestly thought we’d make it out of the group, the 2nd phase at a push, but to finish 3rd was amazing and I’m sad that its all over. Every-time the opposition team attacked, I thought Shilton would let it in, but in some matches, especially Norway, he kept us in it and our defenders popped up with some important goals. The legs held out, the formation worked and Gary Lineker finally became the all-time record goal scorer for England. I can already hear Nessun Dorma being played over the credits…

I hope you enjoyed this blog as much I have playing it, and then writing about it, and hope the twist in the Torino tale was worth sticking around for. Thanks to Dave as always for hosting it and I’m sure I’ll be back at some point to create another new story from this 20 year old game.

‘Loves got the world in motion and I know what we can do…’

My thanks to Matt for bringing us a wonderful save, I hope you’ve all enjoyed it as much as I did. You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills but I’m off to negotiate a contract extension for him

 

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One Season in Turin – Part 5

Matt is back with Part 5 of what started as out a fleeting reunion in Turin but has ended in the England squad from Italia 90 re-uniting for France 98. Can Lineker, Waddle and co match their 1990 heroics?

Thanks for coming back – we finished Part 4 with mission accomplished, taking Torino into Serie A spearheaded by the goals of Gary Lineker and a few other England Stars from Italia 90, and then there was the twist. Lead England into France 98 with the Italia 90 squad.

With two friendly games we destroyed Scotland 4-0 at Wembley but then lost 3-1 to Brazil in Rio.

There’s a buzz around the England camp, these are mostly players who thought their England days were long gone. My aim is to avoid whippings and at least get out of the group with reputations intact. The Quarter finals would be a minor miracle.

Our World Cup Group will put us up against Germany, Cameroon and Japan. Given the age of our squad I’m aiming for results against Cameroon and Japan and hope Germany will slip somewhere to take us through.

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Group E Match 1 – Saturday 13th June 1998 – Germany vs England – Stade De France.

We take on Germany in our first game, but will have to do it without the fine hairstyles of Chris Waddle, so this gives me an opportunity to bring John Barnes into the middle of the park with Gazza and Platt playing off him, which suits his new DMC position, not to mention his waistline.

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Germany line up in a 5-3-2 with deadly Klinsmann upfront. I ask our chief scout who will partner him up front.

‘It’ll be Karsten Baron boss. We’re quite surprised it wasn’t someone else.’

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Do you know Uwe Fuchs?’

‘No, I don’t know Uwe Fuchs, and I don’t care Uwe Fuchs, that’s his business.’

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Silliness aside, it’s not a classic encounter. Klinsmann nets midway through the first half, but it’s only 1 of 2 shots on target out of 5 efforts for them while we muster 1 on target out of 6 attempts. To be honest, I expected to get trounced, so coming away from the Stade De France with a narrow loss is somewhat of a result. Pearce and Gazza pick up bookings, which I hope won’t be costly. I’m not mad though, as they were both bookings for fouls on Andreas Moller.

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The other game in our group also finishes 1-0 in favour of Cameroon,

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Which leaves the table looking like this.

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Reality Check –
Italia 90 – England drew 1-1 with Eire in Cagliari, Lineker being cancelled out by Kevin Sheedy.

Of course they met Germany in that famous semi-final back in Italia 90’

Group E Match 2 – Saturday 20th June 1998 – England vs Cameroon – Parc Lescure.

With a full week to rest my aging stars, the players spend the week relaxing by the pool – it’s like a scene from ‘Cocoon’ – to prepare us for our next match against Cameroon. Luckily Roger Milla is now retired, and I fancy our chances to get 3pts on the board after our brave showing against Germany.

The first half is a cagey affair, but sparks into life after halftime. Misse Misse doesn’t miss on 46 minutes to put Cameroon ahead and facing oblivion, Lineker steps up to the plate to pull us level and in the process overtake Booby Charlton as England’s all time record goal-scorer, 50 on 50, perfect!

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Our backline repels attacking pressure from Cameroon to secure the draw but we suffer two yellow cards for Lineker and Gascoigne.

Reality Check – at Italia 90, England drew 0-0 with Holland, famous for the Gazza’s showcase of skills against the Total Football masters…

In the other group match, Germany put Japan to the sword…

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All of which leaves the group looking like this…

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If I’ve done my maths correctly, we need to win and hope Germany beat Cameroon. Destiny is not in our hands for the final group game against Japan, otherwise we are out.

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We’ll play our last group game against Japan without Gazza after he picked up 2 yellows. That’s his World Cup over if we don’t beat Japan.

Group E Match 3 – Thursday 25th June 1998 – England vs Japan – La Beaujoire.

So, here we go, the final group match, everyone is knackered, but I stick with the same formation and swap in Trevor Steven for Gazza as Waddle is still not fit. It’s all out, or we are out.

We get off to a flyer, forcing Ihara into scoring an own goal and Lineker doubles our lead with his 51st England goal, but we’re pegged back by Maezono to go in 2-1 up. A second own goal in the second half and a Mark Wright header sees us run out 4-1 winners, but will it be enough?

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Yes! Germany do the business against Cameroon,

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And we’re through, just! Now, to find out who we’ll play.

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Reality Check – A Mark Wright goal gave England a 1-0 win against Egypt to set up a second round tie against Belgium.

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Norway, not the worst draw, but they have a decent side. Germany have Austria, whilst France vs Argentina looks tasty.

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We’ll have to do the 2nd round without John Barnes though. His world is no longer in motion for now.

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Waddle will be back soon though, so that’s a diamond light.

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Phase 2 Match 4 – Monday 29th June 1998 – Norway vs England – Felix Bollaert.

We all now the Scandavian players on CM9798 are a decent bunch, so we’ll have our work cut out. They topped ago that eliminated Holland, but in truth it’s a dour affair, only 4 shots each and Gazza gets our only shot on target to take us through to the quarters, but it’s an amazing result in reality as we’re now going further than I ever imagined.

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Even the FA are pleased, which is nice.

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So, we wait to find out our opponents in the quarter-finals.

Tunisia! That’s almost a bye! We’re on our way to the semi’s!

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Look at that quarter-final line up. Dodged a few bullets there! Frances reward for beating Argentina is a painting with Brazil.

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So, join me next week we’ll take on the mighty Tunisia for a place in the semi-finals of France 98, I can hardly wait!

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

One Season in Turin – Part 4

Matt is here with part 4 of his adventure back to Turin, where he has assembled some of the cast of Italia 90 to try and help get Torino promoted. Oh and there’s a twist…

Welcome back to Turin, where the Serie B season is drawing to a close and my Torino side are hanging onto 4th spot and the last promotion place. Will Shilton save the day? Can Terry Butcher lead us to glory? Will McMahon keep his temper? Is bombing down the wing too much for Dorigo? Will Lineker keep scoring? Will Schillaci start scoring? Why did I sign Dave Beasant? Let’s crack on.

With 9 games left to go in the season, I’m keen to put some distance between us and 5th place. We struggle against Salernitana, but it’s a point earned when Shilton guesses the right way and saves a second half penalty from Muoio.

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The stats page tells me all I need to know about drawing a blank.

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Things improve for Torino and Toto in the next game as we beat Castel di Sangro at home…

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….and then away to Padova, we fall behind but English grit from McMahon and Lineker secures us all 3 pts.

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Meanwhile, over in England, Man Utd wrap up the Premier League nice and early. They are stil in the Champions League so will give them some breathing space to prepare for that.

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They really did win at a canter, look at that Goals Against column.

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The UEFA Cup semi-finals conclude and its an all-Italian affair.

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Whilst in the Champions League, Man Utd see off Bayern Munich to set up a final showdown with Serie A champs Juventus.

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The Cup Winners Cup will see Chelsea face off against Betis and their host of attacking talent.

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Back to the league we draw 2-2 at home with Perugia and then require a Lineker double to see off Ancona. With 4 games to go, we host Ravenna in 5th place.

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A win will see us secure promotion. So, of course, we lose!

The same happens to Inter, giving Sampdoria victory in the UEFA Cup Final – poor Ronaldo.

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Our disappointment at losing to Ravenna is obliterated when Verona come to town. Lineker hits 3, Toto gets 2 and former world record signing Lentini is the other goal-scorer. I even let Shilton off for conceding twice.

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Promotion confirmed and mission accomplished. I would have liked to have won the title, but getting promoted with 47 year old Peter Shilton in goal for the whole season is an achievement all of it’s own.

Lineker’s form has captured the imagination back in England, with calls for him to be recalled to the England squad being ignored by Glenn Hoddle. Maybe he should have given Gary the chance to equal Sir Bobby’s record, especially when they lose 3-1 to Spain in a friendly.

One England stalwart who definitely won’t be earning a recall is Steve McMahon who is out for 3 months, that’s his season done and dusted.

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Chelsea reign supreme in the Cup-Winners-Cup

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Middlesbrough celebrate promotion back to the Premier League by beating Leeds in the FA Cup Final. Colombian Freddy Leon with both goals, taking his tally to 32 goals in 34 games for Boro.

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Man United edge out Juventus on penalties to claim their 2nd European Cup

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And that’s the season over, and as the promotion celebrations die down, attention turns to the 1998 World Cup in France, but there’s trouble brewing in the England Camp.
Reports suggest that after the 3-1 defeat to Spain, the England squad took to the Spanish streets to drown their sorrows and were involved in an altercation with a dentists chair and a faith healer.

Glenn Hoddle refuses to accept any blame and the FA swiftly remove him from his position. With the World Cup looming, fans are obviously anxious as to who will lead England in France, especially with Sam Allardyce just being given the boot by Notts County.

The FA speak with the Torino Chairman and it seems our exploits in Turin haven’t just caught the imagination of the press and fans back in England. I’m offered the chance to lead England into the World Cup, but there is one catch – I have to take the players from Italia 90!

The FA have had enough of the tabloid exploits of the current England stars and reckon that the last time England were proud of their team was in 1990 (We’ll ignore Euro ’96 for the sake of this nostalgic fantasy!)

I don’t have much time to prepare and only 2 warm up friendlies before I face off against Germany, Cameroon and Japan.

I’m sure I can get the Italia 90 squad back together, but where are they and what have they been up to?

Well, Shilton, Beasant, Butcher, McMahon and Lineker have all been with me in Turin, but what of the rest? Let’s have a look.

Chris’ Woods and Waddle have just finished 17th in Division 2 with Burnley, finishing 6 pts above the drop zone. Waddle of course is player-manager and helped out with 6 goals and played 49 games to Woods 27.

Paul Parker, Steve Hodge and Neil Webb have all spent the season as unwanted free transfers, so they’ll no doubt be as rusty as Rusty Rustison. While technically Bryan Robson has been on a free, but he’s also managed Middlesbrough to a league and cup double.

Gary Stevens has played 44 games for Tranmere, while Stuart Pearce and John Barnes have been performing for old mate Kenny Dalglish at Newcastle. Des Walker has played 20 games for Sheff Wed and Mark Wright has been at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Gazza is in his pomp at Rangers still and Platt likewise at Arsenal. Trevor Steven has played an impressive 52 games for the less than impressive Bristol City/ Beardsley has 8 goals in 39 games for Bolton and Steve Bull has 19 in 42 for Wolves to compliment Lineker’s 28 in 40 ratio at Torino.

Of course, the Italia 90 squad was a 22 man squad and now the upper limit is 25, so I can add some more faces to this aging side. Of the original call up, Tony Adams, David Rocastle and Alan Smith, all of Arsenal were dropped. Adams and Rocastle are still around, but Alan Smith isn’t, so I opt for those two plus Mark Hateley and Ray Wilkins from Mexico ’86, and why not?

This is the squad I have, and isn’t it a thing of beauty? Steve McMahon you remember is out for 3 months, so he is dicarded, but then Wilkins gets injured and I have left it too late for a replacement, sorry Ian Wright!

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For my first friendly against Scotland, I opt for the line-up which started against Germany in that famous semi-final, which means I have a right wing-back who hasn’t played any football all season, genius!

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Wembley is packed and sensing the enormity and history of his last appearance there, Hendry gets himself sent off for a foul on Gazza after 7 minutes, which surely helps our cause.

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Chris Waddle starts this brave new/old reign with a fizzing shot past Andy Goram, and Platt takes us into half time, two to the good. Wembley is bouncing.

On 48 minutes, Gary gets his 49th goal for England, equalling Sir Bobby C and delighting Sir Bobby R in the stands.

With 10 minutes to go I enjoy the luxury of using all 5 subs and Trevor Stevens wraps things up on the last minute with number 4.

We’re all over the front and back pages of the tabloids the next morning and people are starting to talk up our chances of going all the way, steady on.

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Before all that, it’s the small matter of Brazil and Ronaldo, Romario, Denilson and Rivaldo away.

I stick with the shame formation and line up, but it’s an altogether different result in the Maracana, and not even a sending off and an own goal can help us. Denilson lobbed Shilton twice, 3 minutes from the start and 3 minutes from the end – what is it with England keepers getting lobbed by Brazilians?

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Oddly, amongst the friendlies, I notice that Germany, our first group opponents, lost to our recent foes, Scotland, 1-0, so England > Scotland > Germany means we should beat them, right?

Join me next time to find out, cheers.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

One Season in Turin – Part 3

Matt Wills is back on your screens with the latest from Turin, where some of the cast members of England’s Italia 90 squad have re-assembled to unleash their unique footballing talents on Serie B with Torino. Catch up with Part 2 here

Buongiorno from Torino and welcome to Part 3 of ‘One Season in Turin’ where I try to blend some aging England stars from Italia ’90 with Serie B pretenders Torino’s finest. At the end of Part 2 I was concerned that our goal threat from 37 year old Gary Lineker and young Marco Ferrante was in danger of drying up so went on the look out for a gun for hire.

Toto arrives on the 12.30 flight and enters my office for the contract negotiations. He wants £1,000 a week. I offer £1,200. ‘I’m in, where’s the contract?’ I point to my desk and say ‘Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you.’

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Meanwhile, our Sol won’t be having any goals disallowed in France this summer…

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This raised a few eyebrows too…

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As the Italian transfer deadline looms, Ferrante’s form has interested Fiorentina, but I politely decline. I know I have Toto now, but I know it’s going to take a lot to drag me away from you, Marco.

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I do however, sell our 3rd choice keeper Casazza to Foggia and replace him with free agent, Dave Beasant, as you do.

Casazza’s new team are our next opponents and prop up the table. I start Toto up front with Lineker at the expense of Ferrante, but we draw a blank, drawing 0-0. Schillaci has 3 chances, none on target.

It’s more of the same in our next match against Pescara, again, Schillaci has 3 shots, all off target.

Reggiani come to Turin and it’s our third 0-0 on the trot. I bench Schillaci and recall Ferrante, but to no avail. Going from worrying about not scoring more than 1 to scoring none isn’t quite what I had envisaged.

Against Venezia, Ferrante gets our first goal in 4 games, but we concede 2 and it’s 3pts from a possible 12 – not promotion form.

Reggina (not to be confused with Rosanna) come next and I’m hopeful after a tweak of tactics to a direct diamond formation, which seems to pay off when Lineker scores after 7 minutes, but it’s the same old story and Reggina equalise on 18 minutes and the rest of the match is a largely dull affair.

Away against Fidelis Andria we start brightly again, Lineker bagging after 8 minutes but we go in at half time 2-1 down. Lineker saves us a point by stabbing home with his dodgy toe on 86 minutes.

I can hear Fat Les singing now ‘We’re gonna score the same as you!’

We’re hanging onto a promotion spot now and drifting further away from Reggiana in top spot.

By the time Chievo rock up in Turin, I’m desperate for a decent result and my boys finally deliver, with a thumping 4-0 win and a brace from Lineker. I bring Toto off the bench and although he plays well, that elusive first goal, well, eludes him…

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However, I’m hopeful that a corner has been turned and our promotion charge is back on track but as is the way with this save, Monza in 19th beat us 2-1 and the board declare it an ‘abysmal result’ and I find it hard to argue. It didn’t help that we had Lineker suspended for picking up 7 yellow cards, unfathomable.

Looking for a distraction, the semi’s of the Champions League are drawn and there are few surprises.

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Our final game of this part however does give us something to cheer about. After 8 goalless outings, Toto bangs in a brace against Lucchese in a 3-1 win and it looks as though a switch to 2-3-1-2-2 might be what it’s all about after all.

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Before we finish up, here’s the table to date. We’re in the promotion zone and have 9 games left, time to push on now and hope the old England stars legs can last the final furlong.

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I’m hoping we’ve also got Toto cooking on gas – he’ll be starting more games I feel. Toto, I won’t hold you back.

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Hopefully you’re going to join me in Part 4 to see if these chancers can take Torino over the line and into Serie B.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

One Season in Turin – Part 2

Matt Wills is back in Turin with some of the heroes of England’s 1990 World Cup Squad. Part 1 is available here if you missed it, or AC Jimbo gives us a neat little summary to start off part 2…

‘Greetings, and welcome to another edition of Gazzetta Football Italia. The big news this week is the blistering form of one Gary Lineker, fresh out of retirement and lured to Torino in Serie B by manager Matt Wills, who is attempting to bring this sleeping giant back to the top table. The last time Lineker was in Turin, there were tears and blood (poo) on the carpet (pitch), but now he’s bringing a smile to the faces to the Toro fans. The least said about Peter Shilton’s mobility the better….’

Ah, James Richardson and your Grandma’s roast dinner were always the best cure for a hangover on a Sunday, shame we can’t go back…still we have Dave’s blog updates to keep us happy.

Welcome back to Part 2 of One Season in Turin, where I’m trying to get Torino promoted whilst playing Lineker, Shilton, Butcher and McMahon amongst Torino’s Italians, plus Aussie Englishman with Italian heritage, Tony Dorigo. Things were going very well in Part 1 as we entered November, so hopefully things will continue.

With no Coppa Italia fixtures to trouble us, a game a week should keep the old timers legs fresh and the Italian young guns hungry. One young gun who is off however is defender Fabio Moro who leaves for Udinese. His stats are good, but Butcher is stifling his development, so he’s off.

We pick up in the league against Salernitana at home and a Marco Ferrante goal see’s us collect 3 pts and a clean sheet for Shilts.

Next up is Castel Di Sangro away and another Ferrante goal gets us a point, but we should have capitalised on playing 10 men for the final third of the match. We’re definitely missing Dorigo through injury at left wingback.

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Padova come next to Turin and an early penalty by Lineker, who opts for power rather than a chip this time gives us all 3 pts, but we are woeful in front of goal which could have cost us. Still 7 pts from 9 is not to be sniffed at.

We travel to Perugia at the end of November full of confidence, but the match is a disaster! Briaschi gives Perugia a 4th minute lead, however we equalise on 28 through midfielder Sommese, but we are level for less than a minute as Briaschi doubles his and Perugia’s tally with a header from a corner. Two more from Briaschi give us a heavy defeat, which to be honest I felt was coming, but it still hurts. They beat us and didn’t even need to bring Marc Emmers off the bench. We played the second half against 10 men too, which is an extra worry.

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I tell the chairman it’s nothing but a blip and sure enough, we beat Ancona away 1-0 through that man Ferrante again.

Against Ravenna, Lineker salvages a point after going behind, and Shilts gets man of the match for saving 3 shots with his knees.

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Verona are up next and Lineker has his shooting boots on again, but we can only force the one goal, but luckily, we prevail against ten men to get the points on the board.

We’re effective, but we’re also bloody boring. I’m not intentionally playing catenaccio but it sure feels like it. I feel like Shilts has a howler in him every time the clock ticks past 60 minutes. However, I’ve made my bed, now I have to lie in it – and pull the covers over my head.

We’re now into the xmas break and I’m hoping the winter sojourn will rejuvenate my aging England heroes. I send them all home to their families, whilst Gary does some moonlighting on Match of the Day and flogs some more crisps. I like the fact that I have Salt ‘n’ Lineker and Tony Dorito in my team.

Speaking of Tony, he is back from injury and I’m hopeful of pushing for top spot, but we start the New Year with a thud, losing 0-1 to midtable Treviso. Incredibly, that’s our first blank all season. We had 20 shots, 6 on target, but Pasa’s 1st minute goal was enough for them.

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The next match brings us to the halfway point of the league, with a visit to Genoa and we are masters of our own downfall, conceding an own goal and second 2 minutes later. Sommese reduces areas but the 3rd goal in the second half does us in.

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We’re still second in the table and on course for promotion, but the last run of games has me concerned. Do I need to sort out the defence, replace Shilts or bring in another striker?

Lineker has 16 goals in 22 games, which for a 37 year old is pretty good going, while Ferrante has 12 in 22 himself, but there’s not many other goal getters apart from Sommese with 6.

I wonder if Gazza fancies coming back to Italy?
No.

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What about Beardsley?
No.

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Steve Hodge?
Er no.

Hodge

Bully?
He tells me he’s had a wonderful afternoon but he’s going to let someone else have a go.

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Maybe they don’t have to be English?
Maybe they don’t have to be at another club?
Maybe they can also be a star from Italia 90?
Maybe Toto can Hold The (Front) Line?

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See you next time!

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

One Season in Turin – Part 1

Matt Wills, like Alice Deejay, wants you back in his life. The man who brought you Return of the King is back in time for the new season with another crazy concept. He’s off to Turin…but why?

World Cups, England and Nostalgia have such an interwoven narrative. Every 4 years, England’s hopes of a successful tournament seem to be constantly compared to Euro 96, Italia 90 and 1966. It’s inescapable, so why not embrace it, and this year, England too our hopes as far as 1990 and the semi finals again.

Italia 90 was the first tournament I can remember and watching the semi-final against Germany on TV is still a vivid memory, only enhanced by YouTube clips of Parker’s back, Shilton’s Stumble, Linker’s ecstasy, Gazza’s Tears and Waddle’s Penalty. We can relive One Night In Turin as much as we like, but nothing will change, but CM97/98 gives us the chance of ‘What if?’. Dave did it excellently with his books (obligatory plug). If you followed my ‘Return of The King’ blog, pondering what would have happened had Eric Cantona not retired in 97, you’ll know I like to heap nostalgia on nostalgia, so got me thinking about my next blog theme – how about more than a night in Turin, how about a Season?

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I’ve looked past Juventus for this and opted for Serie B’s Torino – The Old Lady’s Little Sister, if you will. Torino living in the shadow of Juve, finished 5th in 97/98 and missed out on promotion after a playoff defeat. Back in the 1940’s Torino won 5 titles in a row, provided the backbone of the Italian national team, tragically decimated by a plane crash in 1949.

In 1997, the team consists of a smattering of promising youngsters, seasoned pro’s, journeymen, and a member of England’s Italia 90 squad, Tony Dorigo.

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There’s a lot of centre backs in this squad, a lot of left wingbacks and no holding midfielders. This team may need a bit of surgery. Tony will be staying though.

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Before I can make a start though, Jimmy Nicholl frees himself up for a future management move.

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My first order of business is to sign a 3rd goalkeeper for my squad. I opt for someone who should know Turin well. I had to fight off some stiff competition for the 47 year old, but I got my man.

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Next up, I need some competition for Ferrante and Carparelli. Gary swaps the Match of the Day studio for Turin via a lucrative contract (£2k a week) and some fiddling with the editor. Hey, if it’s good enough for Cantona…

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That gap in the middle of the field concerns me, so I opt for Steve McMahon, another Italia 90 stalwart.

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And whilst I don’t need any more centre backs, I wasn’t about to let Terry Butcher play for a Welsh team.

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With my team of Italians and England stalwarts, I set up a few easy friendlys to get to know my team and it seems Lineker didn’t leave his shooting boots in Japan…

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Bobby jumps before he’s pushed.

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Our first game of the season is away to Como in the Coppa Italia. We’re heading out until Lineker pounces to take the game to penalties and then tries a Paneka with our first spot kick, but we prevail. McMahon showing him how to do it. Shilton, even though he waits to see which way the kicker goes, saves the decisive spot kick.

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Our joy is short-lived though, as we go out on penalties in the next round, Lineker again trying that bloody chip-penalty. Tony Dorigo missed and Shilton got no where near Genoa’s 3 penalties, unsurprisingly.

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So, it’s just the league to concentrate on now, and aiming for automatic promotion.

I try a few formations out, starting with the 2-3-1-2-2, but given the amount of centrebacks I have at my disposal, I settle into a 5-3-2 attacking formation, which seems to work…

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Lineker and Ferrante forming a formidable partnership, Shilton leaking the goals though…

Meanwhile, England draw with Moldova and Italy in their France 98 qualifiers so have to negotiate a playoff with Greece…

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The first leg puts them in control, and Robbie Fowler finishes the job in the away tie.

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The draw places England with Cameroon, Germany and Japan – shades of Italia 90 there for Glenn and his men…

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Back to the league, and after 10 games, we’re sitting pretty in second, with plenty of goals scored…

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Most of which are down to this man, who still knows how to sniff out a goal, in almost every game it seems. Butcher and McMahon are marshalling the defence and midfield around them, although Shilton isn’t as mobile as he was in the 70’s. The Italian youngsters and journey men are gelling well with the class of Italia ’90, so hopefully you’ll follow me in seeing if we can get them to Serie A.

Thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with Gary’s stats. You’ll see he’s picked up the first yellow cards of his career, maybe setting his aggression at 7 was a little high… Ciao for now!

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For more from Matt don’t forget to follow him on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

The Return of The King Season 2: Part 6 – Bruce Glee

One more time…we’re gonna celebrate…music got me feeling so free. It’s the final update from Matt Wills’ Return of the King series. It’s been emotional. Can it finish on the ultimate high? And what next? All of this, and more, is answered below. Part 5 is here too if you need to catch up.

So, last week I started off by saying it was the final part of Season 2, but I left a cliff hanger with the FA Cup and Champions Leagues Finals to be played and Eric knocking on my door saying he didn’t want to play in the FA Cup Final…

‘What do you mean you don’t want to play in the FA Cup Final tomorrow Eric?’

‘I want to rest, relax, be ready for, how you say, Le Big One?’

‘Oh……’

So, Eric doesn’t want to risk himself in the FA Cup and save himself for the Champions League Final, ok fair enough, but who do I select?

We’re up against Division 1 QPR, who have finished 7th in the league and missed a Playoff Spot by 4pts. Their squad is not particularly packed with quality, but they do have Matthew Rose, Steve ‘Don’t pick me up Tony!’ Morrow, Gavin Peacock, John Spencer and Mike Sheron in their ranks, so I can’t take things too lightly.

Big Peter starts in goal and at Full Back I select Denis Irwin and 1990 Cup Final hero Lee Martin. In the centre of defence it’s big Pally with Nicky Butt, saving Steve Bruce’s legs for midweek. Roy Keane is captain and starts in the holding midfield role as he’s suspended for the Champions League Final. On the flanks it’s the usual trio of Giggs and Kanchelskis as my flying wingers, with David Beckham in the hole. Up top, I go with Brian McClair to partner Paul Scholes. On the bench it’s Walsh, Blackmore, Sharpe, Gillespie and Dublin.

Wembley is sunny and Eric mills around geeing up the players. Unemployed Bryan Robson is my guest assistant manager on the bench following his sacking by Boro and I receive a ‘Good Luck’ text from Alex Ferguson, which was nice.

As finals go, and much like most 90’s finals in real life, there isn’t much action or drama here. The first half is mostly a drab affair until the 42nd minute when Brian McClair gets himself a straight red-card for stamping on Steve Morrow. I glower at Eric, I think he gee’d the Scot up a bit too much.

Just before halftime, Scholes break free and slots past Lee Harper in the Rangers goal to put us one up at half time. In the Wembley dressing room, I receive an apology from a distraught Brian and tell the lads to keep possession and use the width of the Wembley surface to wear QPR down. It works a treat as Kanchelskis puts us 2-0 up early in the second half and on 65 minutes I bring off Kanchelskis, Scholes and Giggs to keep them fresh for Wednesday and bring on Blackmore, Gillespie and Dublin for a 25 minute run around. On the final whistle there are cheers of joy, but celebations are kept in check for ‘Le Big One’.

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Kanchelskis gets Man of The Match even though I took him off after 65 minutes and I apologise to Walsh and Sharpe for not playing.

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And so, with the FA Cup Final celebrations over, we head to the Waldstadion in Germany for the Champions League Final and a date with Paris St Germain.

PSG came through a group including Juventus and then dispatched Bayern Munich and Barcelona on their way to the final.

Their squad is impressive, with some CM9798 favourites such as Domi, Agboh, N’Gotty, Allou, Sibierski, Rai and Florian Maurice, lining up in a defensive sweeper system.

I stick with the favoured 2-3-1-2-2 which is tried and trusted, I just need pick the players now, and break some hearts.

Schmeichel and Gary Neville are certs for GK and RB respectively, but LB is an issue. I rested Sharpe for the FA Cup Final but he picks up another knock in training and is injured, a sad story of his season. In the middle, who else but Dolly and Daisy – Bruce and Pallister (I never worked out who was who in terms of nicknames, I’ll have to ask Alex…). I pray Steve’s legs last one more game.

With Keane suspended I opt for the experience of Ince over Butt in the holding role and the flanks are taken by Giggs and Kanchelskis. In the hole, Beckham and upfront its Cantona and Scholes.

On the bench, Walsh, McClair, Butt, Gillespie and Dublin. There’s heartache for Irwin at left back, but despite playing 49 games this season, his stats have been below average. The quiet Irishman is not happy…

So to the match, the biggest game over these two seasons, Cantona’s ultimate destiny and a chance for an unprecedented quadruple. But that’s a story for next week…

Only joking, here we go…

PSG start on the front foot, dominating possession and peppering Schmeichels goal with some long range efforts which Peter is more than equal to, I’ve never seen him so agile!

As we approach the half hour mark, we make the break through we dreamed of, Giggs curling in an effort from the edge of the area past Revault after some neat work from Beckham. I’m beaming, fantastic!

3 minutes later I’m furious. Beckham tussles with Paul Le Guen. Rumours are Paul said something like ‘Spice Girls are crap, All Saints are boss’, but it’s never been proven. Beckham kicks out at Le Guen right in front of the Referee and it’s a straight red card. He looks solemn as he leaves the pitch, close to tears.

I tell Scholes to fall back and fill the gap, but this leaves Eric isolated and PSG press the advantage and I’m glad to get into the dressing room at half time still 1-0 up.

David is being consoled by McClair in the dressing room ‘I loved Spice Up Your Life, David, honest’ lies the Scot.

My half time team talk is basically ‘Don’t get sent off, keep it tight and move the ball’

The second half begins and the lads listen to my instructions but unfortunately they move the ball to Rai and the Brazilian weaves his way past Dolly and Daisy and coolly slots past Big Peter who screams at Pallister and Bruce until his face is the same colour as his nose.

However, PSG start going for the kill and we mamage to hold them off and launch some counter attacks of our own, but Eric is still getting isolated and the PSG players are doubling up on him, restricting us to long range efforts that Revault deals with easily.

As the clock ticks past the hour mark I look at my bench to see how best to change things up. I look to Bryan Robson who shrugs his shoulders. I look at Irwin who turns away from my gaze…

Then it happens, Ince, The Guv’nor, dives in for a 50-50 ball, misses and clatters Rai. Second yellow and an early bath. Perfect. I send Dion on for Pallister, who is knackered and drop Eric into the middle, at least he’ll see some of the ball there.

We hold of wave after wave of PSG attacks and we make it to the end of normal time level at 1-1.

As we prepare for the start of extra time, playing 9 against 11 grinning PSG players, I wonder how we can possibly survive the next 30 minutes.

On comes Butt for the weary Kanchelskis, Eric moves up the field and we kick off.

Eric back to Butt, across to Blackmore on the left flank who knocks it across to Bruce who plays it short to Schmeichel. PSG press and my heart is in my mouth as Peter waits until the last possible second to pass it wide to Neville. Peter gives me a thumbs up, as if a preventive for a heart attack.

Nveille knocks it inside to The Dube, who with no options on and surrounded by 3 PSG players, preforms a Cruyff turn and decides to go on a little adventure into the PSG half. ‘Get rid, get rid!’ I shout, but am ignored completely. Dublin nutmegs Rai and then plays a short pass to Cantona who turns his marker, slots in Scholes who takes aim and powers a rising shot at Revault’s goal. The Frenchman gets a strong hand to it and punches it out towards the left flank. Giggs drops on it and takes it into the corner.

I look up and Dion is ambling around on the edge of the area, what is he doing?

As I look back towards our goal I see Peter whispering in Steve Bruce’s ear, who nods and then sets off on a sprint up the pitch, what the hell???!!!

He rushes past Dion and Eric on the edge of the box, arm raised and Giggs finds a yard of space and sends a curling ball to the right hand side of the box. N’Gotty is back peddling and Revault is caught in no mans land, Bruce launches himself at the ball and powers a header into the roof of the net and the roof comes off the Waldstadion.

Bruce is mobbed by the United players and N’Gotty and Revault start squaring up to each other.

The United bench is jubilant as Rai carries the ball back to the centre spot.

Bruce looks absolutely shagged as he ambles back to our end for the restart.

My instructions are clear, keep ball and ride this out. Sit deep and don’t do anything stupid.

PSG start to get complacent and lazy. They are two men up and start assuming someone else is marking their man. Eric runs the ball into the corners and we reach half time in front.

Gary Neville is complaining of cramp so I send on Gillespie as my final sub. 15 minutes from glory. 15 minutes from disaster. PSG make no subs. Sibierski still on the bench.

The longest 15 minutes of my life as played out a hazy slow motion. Schmeichel comes for a corner and drops it only for Blackmore to clear from the line. Nicky Butt upends Hakan Mild but goes unpunished. We make a rare attack and Eric is one on one with Revault but tries to chip on the on rushing keeper and the ball floats onto the roof of the net…

The clock ticks closer to 120 minutes and the pressure mounts, but each cross or forward pass is intercepted by a red shirt and the PSG players start to get more anxious and start to lose the ball ore regularly, its agony.

I prepare myself for penalties, just in case. I jot down Cantona/Giggs/Bruce/Scholes/Dublin. Bryan looks at it and nods. I look past him at the clock, 119 minutes. For a second, I swear I see David may in a United shirt, sitting behind the bench.

The ball goes out of play near Blackmore, Bruce is almost on his knees. Clayton throws a short ball to Dublin who boots the ball as high as he can up the pitch and then rapture! The final whistle! We’ve done it, Champions of Europe, the quadruple!

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We made it hard for ourselves but we did it. I embrace Bruce and the celebrations continue long into the night, I remember little of it…

Thursday 20th May 1999 – the morning after. I groggily awake in my hotel room to the bizarre sight of Bruce and Pallister asleep in bed together with the European Cup between them.

I make my way down to breakfast and join the other players to big smiles and congratulatory hugs and back slaps. It’s a dream come true…

Unfortunately, we all wake up from our dreams, and here’s where this story ends.

What a ride it’s been though, we emulated and bettered the Class of 99 and just like in real life made it as hard for ourselves as possible.

There’s been a few highs along the way. Robson getting his 100th United goal. Winning 9 trophies in two seasons, the penalty shoot out wins, Clayton Blackmore playing in a Champions League final. Brian McClair scoring 4 in one match. Steve Bruce lasting 2 seasons and stepping up with some big goals. Mike Phelan retiring.

There’s been some lows too – Robson hanging up his boots, Sharpe’s numerous injuries, Hughes’ season being cut short, playing Arsenal so many times.

As it started off as a blog about redemption for Eric, heres’ his stats, but as much as it’s been about Eric, its also been about Bruce, Sharpe, Hughes etc…after all it’s a team game.

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At the end of the season, Steve Bruce, Lee Martin and Clayton Blackmore all retire and the squad is further diminished. I could carry on into Season 3 and try for a clean sweep including the Super Cups but I think I’d prefer to leave it here, in perfect stasis and would like to think Eric would go out again on a high, fully satisfied.

Big thanks to Dave Black for hosting the blog and to all Twitter followers who took the time to read it, overlook my spelling mistakes and take the time to comment on it, I hope it’s been enjoyable.

Also thanks to Kevin Smith for proof reading the blogs when I remembered to send them to him.

This is only Au Revoir for now and I hope to back soon for ‘One Night In Seville’

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A big thanks from me to Matt for a fantastic series. He will be back soon with his new adventure but in the mean time you can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills