Can Northern Ireland get to the 1998 World Cup?

Good morning! I’ve got a confession to make. We don’t have a Tuesday writer at the moment. We’ve had a series of guests doing great things, I did a tactics blog with Nikolai but as Liam continues to take a well earned break from the A-Z game, I’ve had to dig deep to do something different. Inspired by the Lockdown challenge, I’ve decided to take the challenge of trying to take Northern Ireland to the World Cup from this position:

Impossible? We’ll see.

On the face of it, we’re basically match point down from the outset. We can get to 17, Ukraine can get there with one win, Germany have a game in hand but will only need two, whilst Portugal are in a similar position. We played both of the big dogs, whilst the medium sized Eastern Europeans face Albania and Armenia. So we need a miracle.

So then, all we have to do is beat Germany. How do we do that? We deploy the famous 2-3-1-2-2 and hope. Paul McVeigh starts on a free and has mostly random stats, luckily he’s got 20 for off the ball and 15 for shooting.

Yay! Old freebie McVeigh equalises, Andreas Moller gets sent off for strutting in front of the fans and Gillespie and Mulryne seal it. It’s on!

It’s really on! Ukraine fail to find the second goal against Albania and effectively double fault on match point, to keep the tennis analogy going.

Portugal’s win over Armenia is very expected.

It doesn’t do much to the table. Germany are still in the driving seat with their game in hand and they host Portugal next, which we need them to win. I’m happy for Germany to win the group and seeing as we still have to go Portugal, that’s our battle really.

Germany do edge it, just.

It’s a handsome win in Albania. Again, it’s the least we could do.

Germany ease past Armenia which means we’ve at least got it to the last round of games.

What do we need to happen? Well even if we do the very difficult but not impossible and win in Portugal, we need Ukraine to fail to beat Armenia. It’s a tough place to go.

So is Portugal though so I am delighted to see the lads pull off a win worthy of the surprise result graphic. Belter.

Germany book their place in the finals with a thrashing of Albania.

So it comes down to Ukraine in Armenia. If they don’t win, we get to go to the playoffs. Well done, Barsegian. That’s a healthy crowd too.

The dream is alive! Portugal and Ukraine ought to be ashamed.

We’re in the playoff draw with England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. Thankfully we avoid any politically charged ties and face Croatia. England and the Republic will lock horns whilst Scotland face Belgium. It could have been worse. Croatia are an attacking force but they’re not the best at the back.

The first leg finishes a draw. McVeigh gives us the lead but Suker equalises. We have nothing to add and once Lennon goes off injured, we can do it all against in Croatia in two weeks.

I don’t know what Toplak is but he hooks into his own net to give us a precious away goal and more importantly, the lead. Jim Quinn adds a second and Neil Lennon gets sent off. I bet that means he misses some important games in France…WHICH WE HAVE QUALIFIED FOR.

Obviously, we’re the bottom seeds. Which means we get this group from hell. Not an awful lot of weaknesses in there.

Whilst I sim to May, let me take some questions from the press.

Q. Why do I recognise some of these results?

Great question. I attempted this on Twitter in March right around lockdown starting and failed. I found the save game file whilst I was looking for something to blog about and now here we are, at 11.32pm on a Sunday evening.

Q. This is an incredible set of results, did they really happen?

It’s like Santa, if you believe it enough it’s real. We’re going to Paris, baby.

Q. Does Paul McVeigh have a club yet?

Yes, he’s at Hearts. He has 0 goals in 8 games for them.

Q. Shouldn’t you be playing the friendlies?

Probably, but time is everything. It’s now 11.35pm. The player pool is tiny, I don’t think I will find anything out that I don’t already know. I can tell you the holiday manager lost 3-0 to Republic of Ireland in the December friendly – who thought that was a good idea?

Q. How far has the game simmed during this Q&A?

It’s currently February. So it’s been 3 months in about 10 minutes, which isn’t bad going.

The Survivor Series kick off show has been an average at best companion. Time to name the squad!

As usual it says 22 man squad but hasn’t asked me to kick 3 out from the 25 I have. Haters gonna hate.

The first game is against Chile. Lennon is indeed banned for two games following his playoff indiscretion.

Chile boast Salas and Zamorano but with just Javier Margas left to try and keep the back door shut, our lads don’t hold back. Jim Quinn, now of Aston Villa, gets things up and running and McVeigh makes it 2 before half time. Once we bruise Zamorano’s head our tasks becomes even easier. 4-0 doesn’t flatter us.

That’s useful. Spain beat Colombia 2-0 and follow it up with a 1-0 win over Chile. No shocks there.

Colombia then. A draw would keep us in the box seat but being realistic, unless Gerry Armstrong is coming back we’re going to lose to Spain. I notice Colombia are missing their first choice keeper so the erratic Higuita is in.

We’re unchanged. Paul McVeigh is unrelenting. We dominate from start to finish in scenes I didn’t expect.

Well, that was easier than I expected

Now, I’ve fallen foul of this before. We’re in Group H, and the runners up in Group H play the winners of Group A. That’s Brazil. Not only that, they play it two days after the last group match, I remember Dan’s Chile team suffering a similar fate in the CM World Cup. So my new plan is to find a way to draw with Spain. Or win. But drawing is the slightly more likely.

We’ve made one change. Lennon is available again but let’s face it, he’s a walking card and we’re going to need him later. Taggart though is banned, he’s our best defender so that’s a blow but I have faith in Barry Hunter of *checks notes* Reading.

Spain lineup thusly, with a full strength team.

We’re being battered. Wave after wave of Spanish attacks are repelled by Alan Fettis until Alfonso beats him. Not physically, he just tabs in a rebound. Our task is made tougher when Horlockj departs with a tournament ending back strain. Not to worry though, Lennon arrives, Jim Quinn goes on a mazy dribble and fires home the equaliser. Spain keep coming at us but with Alan McDonald thrusted into a back 3, we see out the closing minutes successfully. Magilton even misses a one on one in stoppage time. TOP!

Contreras gets man of the match, which seems a bit much.

Confirmation of our superiority.

Brazil avoided, USA is a winnable game. Argentina or France less so. France are of course the home team so hopefully Argentina can spring a surprise.

Once again, Spain show me up to be an arsehole, winning against Brazil two days later.

Father Phil is suspended so I’ve opted for John Morrow. I don’t know who John Morrow is.

Tags is back to captain the side

The USA opt for a standard 4-4-2. So often our undoing. I do worry about their front 2 but really very little else.

Jim Quinn! He slots past Brad Friedel early on. It’s quite cagey but Wynalda and Kirovski go close a number of times. In a rare act of foresight, I decide we probably need a second goal so take off Steve Morrow for Jon McCarthy and send Gillespie to wing back. A minute later, McCarthy scores. Easy job sometimes.

France beat Argentina by the same scoreline. I fear for us, I really do.

It’s pretty much full strength for France. I’ve decided to stick with Gillespie as a wingback, he did well there for my Aberdeen team and I think we need to try and outscore France. Father Phil is back so both Morrow’s are demoted to the bench.

France haven’t come to mess about, though Henry’s suspension can’t hurt.

We grow into the game. It soon becomes apparent they’re not to be afraid of. Barthez starts making saves, the sweat of worry is gleaming on his head. Lennon goes off injured and young Gareth Graham is on. It makes little difference. We keep playing. Fettis is still busy but it’s not the Alamo. It goes to extra time.

We get a free kick on 110 minutes. Magilton swings it over and McVeigh meets it on the volley. GOLDEN GOAL. The semis awaits. We’re all in the stands, forget about tonight it’s a write off. But…there’s a flag up. Back to work lads. It goes to penalties.

We win the toss and we’re up first. McVeigh scores. What a lad he is. FETTIS SAVES. Advantage us. Gillespie is denied by Barthez. Djorkaeff, McCarthy, Blanc all score. Phil Gray balloons it over the bar. Stupid Phil Gray. Pires scores. Father Phil scores. Desailly scores. Elimination.

I’m so proud of these lads. What an effort.

Spain win the World Cup, beating France in the final. Something bittersweet about that.

I hope you enjoyed this little experiment, I’m tempted to carry on. I’ve fallen for these idiots. See you next time!

3 thoughts on “Can Northern Ireland get to the 1998 World Cup?

  1. Great stuff Dave, what a come back. May have to acquire Jimmy Quinn and Alan Fettis more on this basis! Paul McVeigh once scored 55 in a season for me once (albeit Scot Div 3).

  2. Pingback: Can Northern Ireland get to Euro 2000? | CM 97/98

  3. Pingback: Let’s all meet up at Euro 2000 (with Northern Ireland) | CM 97/98

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