In the wake of our ridiculous 5-4 extra time victory over Italy, I’ve got plenty to chew over. We broke 2 European International League records in the semi-final for the fastest goal scored (As offside as that cheeky scamp Griezmann was) and for the most goals in a match.
Both of these are big pluses in my book. I took this job with the sole intention of winning trophies using the exciting, entertaining football that a side of this quality should be playing. So good. There is however the small matter of our defensive performance, or lack there of. As much as I could point the finger at our defence and Samuel Umtiti in particular, our attacking style involves pretty much completely abandoning the centre backs to hold the fort on their own. Maybe I should sacrifice the free flowing football slightly to allow us to be a bit tighter at the back…
However I won’t be doing that today. An EIL final is hardly the place to experiment as it’s a chance to actually win some silverware at international level, so we’ll be sticking with Project: Renaissance for better or worse. In the other semi final, Spain and Portugal went to penalties, but it was the Portuguese who came through and booked themselves a showpiece match against my French side. We’ll have home advantage once again as the higher seeded team while whoever wins will bring EIL glory to their nation for the first time, with neither side having enjoyed previous success in the admittedly very new competition.
I’m making just one change for the final: Thomas Lemar comes in for the tired Kingsley Coman. As I alluded to before I’m placing the blame for our defensive frailties on my own shoulders, so Leo Gauthier, Raphaël Varane and Samuel Umtiti all keep their places.
12 minutes in, Thomas Lemar swings in a corner but it’s cleared as far as that man Griezmann, 25 yards out. Our vice-captain passes to Mbappé just inside the box and he turns, pulls the trigger and sees his effort take a massive deflection off João Mario before bobbling into the net. Not a particularly pretty goal but I punch the air all the same. Say what you will about our dodgy defence, these lads can find the net in their sleep.
10 minutes later Portugal are looking severely lacklustre up front though. I think after being taken to school against a fluid Italian front 2, Varane and Umtiti are relishing the opportunity to have just one lone striker to mark between them. Andre Silva is being left all on his own against the pair and it’s showing as Portugal struggle to find a foothold in the game. One particular potential chance ends abruptly when Varane steps out of defence and tackles Silva, after which Mbappé and Sidibé exchange a few passes to move us up the right wing, Sidibé gets a cross in from the byline and Lemar arrives late in the box to head in our 2nd.
10 minutes from half time Silva does give the Portuguese something to cheer when he manages to get goal side of Varane and latches onto a great Guedes pass, before battering the ball past Gauthier. Only a few minutes later though we’re 3-1 up when Lemar’s free kick into the box is headed away as far as Griezmann but Lemar busts a gut to get into the 6 yard box and support. Griezmann threads him through and the finish is simple, restoring our 2 goal lead.
I’d be satisfied with 3-1 at half time but my team certainly aren’t. With 4 minutes to play before the break, Mendy plays a one-two with Lemar from a throw in on the left before crossing right footed into the box. Mbappé cushions the ball down with his head, Griezmann lets it drop over his shoulder and my god, he even puts Bakayoko’s semi-final volley to shame, rifling the ball into the top right corner with jaw-dropping technique. At half time the score’s France 4, Portugal 1.
A quarter of an hour into the second period it’s still 4-1 and I give Neal Maupay a run out and Pogba a deserved rest. Griezmann drops back into the hole. With 10 minutes of the game to play Maupay helps grab us a 5th too, powering into Portugal’s half after we clear their corner, dancing past Danilo onto the right wing and unselfishly squaring for Thomas Lemar, who takes a touch and completes his hat trick with a simple finish. At 5-1, Florian Thauvin replaces the hat trick hero for no other reason than I’m pretty sure he’ll never get another chance of winning a cap.
The last dregs of the match see Silva very nearly get his nation a 2nd goal, running between our 2 centre backs to pick up a Raúl pass from deep on the right. He shoots maliciously at goal but Gauthier dives to his right to bat the ball behind with a strong hand. Good lad.
As the referee finally calls time on my seventh Managerial season with a shrill blast of his whistle, I take a moment just to absorb some of the noise that fills the Stade de France, shaking the stadium right down to it’s foundations. We may not have won a World Cup, we may not have a European Championship, but fuck me we’ve won an International trophy. Auxerre are still a Ligue 1 club and France are the winners of the 2023 European International League. If that doesn’t constitute a good season, I don’t know what does.