Euro 2020 was supposed to kick off in Rome on Friday, with Turkey playing Italy. However the Covid-19 pandemic postponed proceedings, with UEFA choosing to move the tournament to June 2021. With football fans having to resort to highlights of older tournaments to get their fix, and the notion of gathering down the local to watch the Boys In Green verboten until a vaccine is found, we did the next best thing; we simulated the tournament in Football Manager.
Here’s a glimpse into the alternate dimension where Euro 2020 actually took place in 2020.
In this timeline, Mick McCarthy has stayed on as Irish manager, and got Ireland through to the finals. Ireland was drawn in Group E, facing three-time champions Spain, Belgium, and Slovenia. Our campaign began with an away game in Bilbao, facing Spain, and the tournament couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
Shane Long had Irish fans in dreamland, scoring 2 goals to send Ireland 2-nil up at half time. Dare Ireland dream of pulling off the same upset the North did in 1982 against the Spanish?
Real Madrid man Isco came out of the dressing room at half time with fire in his belly, making it 2-1. Ireland played a defensive game, playing a 4-2-3-1 with two defensive midfielders lying in front of the defence and Shane Long the lone man, up front.
Ireland racked up 5 yellow cards for their troubles, with the game turning on its head with Robbie Brady getting sent off in the 57th minute. It was truly backs to the wall now for Ireland, as Spain found their groove, with Sergio Busquets running the show in midfield, and Ireland soaked up pressure for 25 minutes.
Jeff Hendrick gave away a free kick 30 yards from the Irish goal, which Isco dispatched into the box. Real Madrid defender Nacho claimed he was pushed by Patrick Bamford, which sends Glaswegian referee Willie Collum over to check the VAR. Penalty given.
Sergio Ramos stepped up and rifled his penalty past Darren Randolph. 2-2, Ireland’s lead gone in an instant.
McCarthy made a gamble after the goal, sending on 3 midfielders in an attempt to steal a win. Could the Boys In Green hold on?
In the 91st minute, substitute Callum Robinson, on the pitch for a mere 9 minutes, hobbled off with a foot injury. It was 9 men against Spain’s 11, and a buoyant Bilbao crowd.
Shane Duffy took down Valencia striker Rodrigo on the edge of the penalty area, in what was surely the final attack for Spain. Isco whipped it in, but John Egan cleared it out, but not far enough, as Sergio Ramos intercepted.
Ramos found Sergio Busquets 25 yards away from goal and passed it to the talisman. Busquets glided past James McCarthy and fired a shot out of Darren Randolph’s reach. Not for the first time in international football, Spain broke Irish hearts.
Next up: a home game against Belgium.
Ireland had home field advantage, as they sought revenge for the 3-0 defeat the Benelux nation inflicted on them at Euro 2016.
McCarthy adopted a more attacking approach, a traditional 4-4-2, against a Belgian team jam-packed with superstars such as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bryune, Youri Tielmans and Vincent Kompany.
In a slight upset, the game concluded 0-0, with the only incident of note being a yellow card for midfielder Conor Hourihane on the 68th minute. A defeat here would have ended Ireland’s tournament hopes, now they’ve been given a shot in the arm.
The final group game saw Ireland line out at the Aviva Stadium once again, in a full house, to take on Slovenia, with Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak standing in the way of last 16 hopes.
Slovenia were top of the group heading into the final game day, with a shock 1-0 win over Spain throwing the group off its axis. All four teams in the group have a chance of making it through to the round of 16, as the games kick off in Dublin and Bilbao.
Harry Arter bundled home a goal with 51 seconds on the clock, sending the virtual Aviva Stadium into raptures.
Ireland immediately went into containment mode, sitting on the 1-0 lead, allowing Slovenia to maintain possession for long stretches of the game. Seamus Coleman is in flying form all game, dominating the game from the right wing of midfield.
On the 77th minute, Robbie Brady redeemed himself from his Spanish sending off to put Ireland 2-0 up, cementing Ireland’s place in the last 16.
From zero to hero in the space of a week, Brady scored again in injury time, as news filters through that Belgium have fallen 2-0 to Spain. Belgium, one of the pre-tournament favourites, crashed out in the group stage, with Spain, Ireland and Slovenia progressing.
Ireland’s counterparts in the next round? England.
Starting off strong with resounding wins over fellow Celtic nations Scotland and Wales, the 3 Lions slipped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Serbia, throwing away the chance to finish at the top of their group.
A spot in the quarter-final against Poland awaited Ireland or England, as they faced off in Telia Parken in Copenhagen.
With the grandson of a Connemara man leading out England, Ireland prepares to do battle with its fiercest rival on one of the biggest stages in sport.
Ireland is no stranger to the surroundings of Telia Parken, with a draw here in June 2019 proving crucial to Ireland’s qualification hopes, as well as the first leg of the ill-fated 2018 World Cup playoff, and the virtual nation came to a standstill for this Monday afternoon game.
Leicester star James Maddison turns in a performance worthy of his idol David Beckham, pulling the strings from midfield and making life very difficult for an Irish team that is set up for defensive counter-pressing.
On the 19th minute, Maddison whipped in a pitch-perfect cross, that was met by the head of Raheem Sterling.
Ireland spent the rest of the half firmly camped in their half of the pitch, with McCarthy seemingly having learned his lesson from being too attack-minded against Spain.
The two teams head into the dressing room, with England 1-0 up.
England have been sloppy and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had been his usual erratic self, leaving the door open for an Irish breakthrough. The door slammed shut almost as soon as the second half starts, with Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain fouled in the penalty area by Enda Stevens.
Harry Kane tucked his penalty far beyond the reach of Darren Randolph, as Irish hopes of a quarter-final berth were evaporating by the minute.
James Maddison worked his magic again on the 63rd minute, with an inch-perfect pass parting the Irish defence and allowing Harry Kane to slip through for an easy finish.
With half an hour left in the game and a commanding 3 goal cushion, the 3 Lions sit back.
John Egan restored Irish pride on the 65th minute, with a strong header from a corner providing mere consolation for the Boys In Green.
In truth, Ireland were never in any danger of finding two goals in 25 minutes to knock out England, and as the full time whistle blows on Ireland’s tournament and the second McCarthy era, the players held their head high at a second straight knockout stage qualification.
England ended up falling in the semi-final to France, via a Kylian Mbappe penalty, with Turkey proving the surprise package of the whole tournament, with a semi-final run ended over a 3-0 loss to Spain.
Spain and France faced off in Wembley for an ill-tempered affair, with 11 yellow cards between the two teams.
A missed Sergio Ramos penalty in the second half sent the game to extra time, where France lost defender Benjamin Pavard through a red card and living dynamic engine N’Golo Kante through injury.
Kylian Mbappe, usually such a dominating force, had an off-night, and played through the pain barrier with a groin injury.
The game went to penalties, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Sissoko blazing his penalty over the bar tiding the game up for Spain.
Sergio Busquets, the man who broke Irish hearts in Bilbao, made no mistake, and hands Spain their 4th European Championship.
So there you have it; Ireland did as well as can be expected, Spain exorcised the demon of Euro 2016, France fell at the final hurdle once again, and a penalty ended England’s hopes.