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Ok, now we’re down to the Quarter Finals of the 2018 World Cup. The final eight. Things are really getting serious now, and all that’s left is big matches. For most countries, making it to the last eight would be a good/great performance, but not for die mannschaft. For Germany, this would be an unadulterated failure. I’m very much expected to win this game by the DFB, and the game itself. This update will be covering the Quarter Final match against Belgium, one of the most promising international teams in world football for quite some time. In case you’ve missed any of my updates on this save so far, here are my first, second and third updates. In the last update, I covered the Last 16 match against the 2010 World Champions, Spain, where we comfortably came through 1-0 victors thanks to a goal from our 2014 hero, Mario Götze.

Again, we have drawn a bigger nation in Belgium when we could have had weaker options, but this world cup – or Vladimir Putin – seems intent on throwing challenges at us, so let’s see how this one goes. I had plenty of decisions to make before the game itself.

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Through this tournament, Belgium appear to have been using a fairly conventional 4-2-3-1 system, with Kevin De Bruyne acting as the Number 10 and playmaker of the side. Roberto Martinez’s side started the tournament off horrifically, with a loss against the Democratic Republic of Congo, but have since re-found their form to reach the quarters, defeating – the usually overrated in FM – England in the 2nd Round. The scout report from my team – which is currently suffering from retirements during the world cup – has suggested that I need to keep an eye on De Bruyne, and has warned me that Belgium are a strong and physical team. I have issues of our own to worry about ahead of the game. In the last game, Timo Werner went down with an injury that put him out for 5-10 days, and as a result, I decided to bring in Thomas Müller to play the AF role in our front 3. Müller isn’t ideal in that role, but he’ll have to do. I was also very unsure whether to change my lineup. Many of my players were low on fitness, but I was conscious of not wanting to rotate too much. In the end, I took a very risky decision. Our starting XI for die mannschaft (in the 5-2-3 system) against Belgium was:

Neuer; Tah, Hummels, Boateng; Can, Hector, Goretzka, Havertz; Götze, Müller, Brandt

Yep, I didn’t make many changes, bringing Tah in to replace Orban – the only other was Müller, which was forced upon me. Considering my team was already low on fitness, this can be looked at either as very, very brave, or very, very stupid. This was the lineup that Belgium went for, and it scared me far more than that of Spain’s in the previous round. Hazard, De Bruyne, Bailey and Mertens (Lukaku was injured) is a far more scary attacking lineup, and I knew we were in for a greater challenge. So, how did the game go? Well, the very first highlight 5 minutes in is a throw in deep in Belgian territory. Jordan Lukaku makes a bad throw which is intercepted by Götze, who plays it straight to Müller, who finds Julian Brandt..

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TOR! 1-0 to Germany!

…who tucks it into the corner, making it 1-0 to die mannschaft. With us 1-0 up so early, I make sure to tell the team to ‘concentrate’ – if this has any real effect I’d like to know – and we settle down, maintaining our lead. The next highlight of any note is in the 19th minute, and we’re on the ball again, camped outside Belgium’s box. Havertz, Brandt and Goretzka combine on the left flank, forming a passing triangle, before a square pass to Hector leads to the ball being played out to Emre Can on the right flank, a cross into the box then falls onto the head of…

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TOR! 2-0 in the 19th minute!

…Julian Brandt again, who makes it 2-0 to Germany, and all of a sudden, we look like we’re cruising, and my decision to retain the same lineup looks like a master stroke! This time I encourage the team, getting the feeling we can kill the game right here with a third goal. Almost immediately, a highlight flashes up, only this time Belgium are deep in our half with Nainggolan and Witsel working the ball around. However, a misplaced pass is intercepted by Jonathan Tah, and he immediately plays it long and direct towards our forwards, and Thomas Müller manages to pick it up. He moves forward, one on one with Courtois and..

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….sigh.

…fires the ball straight into Courtois, and an opportunity to kill the game and make it 3-0 within 25 minutes goes begging. A few minutes later, we get another highlight, and again Belgium are on the ball. However, this time the ball is worked around from Bailey on the right wing to Lukaku at left back, who plays it forward to Hazard when we don’t press effectively. Hazard then lofts the ball into Mertens inside the penalty box and..

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2-1. Bollocks.

Mertens tucks the ball into the far corner, making it 2-1 to Belgium. I tell the team to ‘concentrate’ again, worrying that this is the beginning of an onslaught, and we’ll soon concede again. I’m half right. Several highlights come and go, with us now looking worse and worse, and Belgium 100% the team on top. Every time we have the ball we lose it, and Hazard is repeatedly just strolling (quickly) through the centre of the park with the ball every single time he picks it up on the left. We appear to be unable to cope with him right now. To my great delight – and relief – half time comes. I tell the team they mustn’t get complacent, and again see a wall of green, making me feel relieved that we will come out for the 2nd half rejuvenated again. I also brought on Amiri for Emre Can, with Can literally being on his last legs after going down right at the end of the half.

….except we weren’t rejuvenated. Not even slightly. The second half continued much as the first had ended, with constant Belgian pressure, and our team suddenly being unable to do anything. Whether this was because our fitness had declined too far I don’t know, but it just wasn’t working. The only saving grace was that many of Belgium’s shots were from outside the box, but make no mistake, we were being peppered with shots. My team really were exhausted. Then….

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Sigh… again. Boateng’s out.

Then Jerome Boateng went down with an injury in the 70th minute – with the score somehow still at 2-1 – and I had to take him off, bringing on Willi Orban yet again. At this point, I was simply desperate to get to 90 minutes. I told the team to concentrate over and over again. I’d brought on Leroy Sané on 65 minutes for Julian Brandt, who despite scoring both goals was absolutely shattered. So… twenty minutes, no substitutions. Could I do it? Well, twenty minutes ticked by, and we repelled attack after attack, with Belgium repeatedly having long shots. To say I was stressed would be an understatement. Then we got what I knew would be the last highlight of the game, and we were on the ball! However, as Amiri passed the ball down the line to Götze the ball was intercepted, and Belgium came forward in a wave. The ball went from Lukaku all the way over to substitute Origi to Witsel and into the box to Mertens….

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2-2. We’ve thrown it away in the 91st minute…

….who tucked it into the corner to make it 2-2. The final whistle went not long after, and after I gave the players a fair bit of a talking to. Extra time then began…. and then literally nothing happened for 30 minutes. I’d made all my subs, I didn’t want to change tactics out of pure fear, and the game just quickly made it through both periods of extra time. I knew what was coming, penalties. Brilliant. I started thinking of who I wanted to take them. Müller, Götze? But then… highlight.

From a goal kick, Neuer played the ball out to Orban at LCB. The ball then quickly moved to Havertz, who moved it inside to Goretzka. Goretzka then played a lofted ball into the box as Sané picked it up and ran to the byline and took a shot….

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Awww…

But the shot was saved by Courtois. Damn. Penalties then I guess.

Hang on….it’s been rebounded out by Courtois….

It’s come to the feet of Mario Götze….

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TOR! TOR! TOR! TOR! TOR! 3-2!!!!

Götze then tucked it into the corner in the 119th minute to make it 3-2 to die mannschaft. After I’d calmed down, I told the side to ‘concentrate’ again as the final seconds ticked away and…

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Yes! World Cup Semi Finalists.

We are World Cup Semi Finalists in 2018. At this point, I’ve achieved the very least I think I should have achieved with this squad, and anything from here is just purely a bonus. We’re in the last four of the tournament. Much like the Spain game, Belgium took many more shots than we did, but many of their shots are outside the box, showing that no matter what, we have maintained a strong defensive block which is difficult to penetrate. I’m not massively convinced by the 5-2-3 after this game though, and a part of me is considering switching systems for the semi final, which I know is crazy. I’m just unsure at the moment whether our downturn in form was as a result of the 5-2-3, or our ridiculous levels of fitness at the end of the game. I’m leaning towards the latter, because our stats for the game aren’t actually bad relating to possession and shots on target/shots ratio. Still, it was hardly a vintage performance, but for 20 minutes we were unstoppable. I’m just hope our poor performance in the second half is as a result of my decision not to rotate the side very much. Fingers crossed. Still, those decisions are for the next game. Who do we have in the semi-finals?

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Meh, they’re all hard at this point.

Well, we’ve drawn Croatia. A tough game for sure, but one that I really think we can win. The actual final four for this year’s World Cup is us, Brazil, Croatia and Wales, so apart from Wales, I think we’ve actually got the easiest draw we could have, because I don’t want any part of Brazil until the final, should we make it. Hey look, I’m being optimistic again. Croatia certainly won’t be easy and we’ll have to be much better than we were in this game to beat them, but we can certainly do it. The fitness issues worry me though, and I need to decide what I want to do with the 5-2-3. I’ve got some big decisions ahead. Anyway, the Semi-Final will form the next update of this series so until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always, should you have any questions about this save, my plans for the semi final, or just FM18 in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey) or via the comments section of this blog. Thank you again.

#AspeyforBundestrainer

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