It's Sunday night. Last game to clinch Gold 1. Opponent team consists of OP Socrates, Prime Nedved, Ferdinand, Ibra, Kante. Hard, but manageable.
Game starts. My players feel responsive, reacting immediately to my control. "You can do this," I whisper to myself. 15 minutes into the first half, the opponent concedes a corner. My own OP Socrates climbs higher than everyone else and nods it home. 1-0. Nothing fancy, but just what I need. Now, let's hold on to this lead and it's Gold 1. A one goal lead is nothing. I know this. I'm focused.
The opponent goes attacking from restart, stringing quick passes together and tries skill moves. I remain calm, manually intercept the majority of his passes and block his wingers from cutting in from the sidelines. Seems to work. At the 30 minute mark, he strings together a simple pass-and-move routine. I try to cover. The ball looks nicely weighted and seems to have more of a spin on it than usual. I feel it coming. Just as the ball reaches Zlatan in front of the box, my opponent fires a shot and bam, top right hand corner of the net. 1-1.
Restart. It's cool. Basically 0-0. Let's stick to the game plan and be a little more precise in possession. Instead, I do anything but that and give away possession in midfield. On the counter, the opponent switches lanes and attacks the left side where RTTF Alonso covers. He has enough pace, but is a touch too slow to turn. Meanwhile, the opponent's Ibra chains together a dazzling series of skill moves, caps it off with a left footed finesse shot into the bottom left corner of the net, in off the post. 1-2.
From here, I realize I need to be more assertive. The more time I give him on the ball, the more opportunities he has to execute those nasty skill moves. I gotta be aggressive. More attacking. I switch to 4-1-2-1-2 narrow, with Danny Da Costa and Marcos Alonso bombing up the pitch. Things look more promising. I'm creating more chances, a couple of shots on target with Werner and even manage to hit the post once with Socrates. The first half draws to a close. Despite the deficit, I feel good. Feels even. The opponent is wary of what I can do.
Second half begins. I resume doing what worked in the first 45. Wave after wave of attacks come at the opponent, his defenders putting their bodies on the line to block shots and passes in and around the box. He begins misplacing passes and whacking the ball out of play. This is my chance. From one swift build-up with short quick passing, my Prime Nedved smacks the ball first time into the top right hand corner, restoring parity. 2-2, with roughly 4 minutes to go in real time.
At this point, the opponent pauses for a substitution. He must be getting jittery. He will change his tactics and try to kill the tie as soon as possible. As such, I opt to bring on BF Meunier on defense to replace the diligent Da Costa who's completely exhausted, and FUTMAS De Bruyne for EOAE Ramsey for an extra blade in attack. The opponent subs in SIF Eriksen and POTY Martinez. Eriksen in particular, causes problems straight away. His dribbling is smooth and passing on point, forcing me to cover the space around him and allowing Martinez more room than I would have liked.
80th minute. Opponent wins a corner. I've been defending well against his corner routines all game. This is fine. He whips in a regular ball. I head it out with Van Dijk. For some inexplicable reason, however, the ball does not fly out towards the sidelines as usual but drops right at the feet of Eriksen. I gasp. Eriksen scores with an easy finesse shot before I can say "Shit." 3-2.
As the game draws towards a disappointing end, the opponent decides to waste time with Eriksen near my corner flag. I've never hated a card more than this SIF Eriksen. Then I see it. One split second of distraction causes his Eriksen to lose possession to Meunier, who calmly passes to Nedved. After triggering BD Werner to make his run in behind, I make the through pass. The ball glides through the opponent's defensive line, finding the feet of Werner. From a tight corner he controls the ball, makes a small turn towards goal and cooly slots it home with the outside of his boot. 89th minute. 3-3. I readjust myself on the couch.
Extra time comes and both sides go all out. Both goalkeepers pull off incredible saves. The first 15 ends with me creating more clear cut chances and I'm gutted having not taken the lead.
The second half is dreadful in terms of technical quality. More balls are misplaced as players get tired and it is a slug fest. The game is inching towards a shootout-
Shit. The opponent's Socrates is cutting in for a pass into the box. Quick, cover! He swings one in anyway with every intention of getting that last ditch corner. Corner given. It is the 118th minute.
My wife turns toward the screen asking how the game is going. I remain focused, quickly responding "Pens, probably." Now, let's be super careful here. We know Eriksen was afforded the space to score his goal earlier. Let's not make the same mistake again. But let's not give Ibra a free header either.
In comes a ball that floats above everyone and drops in the middle of the box. My heart races. I scramble to get to it. It's anyone's ball. Clear it and the game is free for all. Clear it!
Eriksen smashes it in.
Tl;dr – I bottled Gold 1 again. Also, screw SIF Eriksen.
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