Jul 26, 2018
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Hello all! This isn't quite 'Your Country Needs You' as it's not my country I've chosen! As it is, I'm preparing to take South Africa into the World Cup 2018 having got them qualified past Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde!

This is my first attempt at an FM story so be kind and hopefully I'll unveil the story of Bafana Bafana at the World Cup!

To begin with, here is the squad. In the next post, I'll talk through the key players for each position!

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The Key Players
Here are the key players for each position from back to front. I hope these four will help become the spine and key to South Africa’s progress at the forthcoming World Cup!

Goalkeeper: Itumeleng Khune, 30, Kaiser Chiefs
Khune has been my starting GK since the save began. The Kaiser Chiefs stalwart is a 4-star rated player so I’m hoping not may goals will get past him during the tournament!

Defender: Rivaldo Coetzee, 21, Manchester City
Having been picked up by Manchester City and then loaned around across the last couple of seasons, Coetzee is building up a level of experience ahead of his years. Here’s hoping he can make the best use of this and secure our backline.

Midfielder: Percy Tau, 24, Mamelodi Sundowns
Tau burst onto the national scene via the African Championship of Nations in January. Since then, he’s made the right wing position his own. With a love of bursting forward and getting down the right hand side, the nation will be expecting him to take the game to the opposition.

Striker: Dino Ndlovu, 28, Qarabag FK
Ever since I took over the South African team, this man has been filling his boots as the country’s main striker. With 3 goals in 7 appearances so far this year, the South African fans will be hoping this well-travelled striker lights up the world stage.

So there we have it. These are the four players I hope will light up the tournament. Next up, the traditional warm-up friendlies against Syria and Slovenia…​
Put ahead by Keegan and Tau linking up within 18 seconds, this turned out to be a warm-up cruise. A thunderbolt by Kekana doubled the lead and South Africa were 3-0 up by half-time. This meant that there could be the inevitable range of second-half substitutions but there was still chance for striker Ndlovu to finish the game.

Midfield thunderbolts are where it’s at! A really topsy-turvy game sees South Africa go 1 -0 down early on through a free kick before getting a 2 -1 lead at half-time. Slovenia weren’t done though and equalised early on in the second 45. Despite dominating shots and chance creation, it looked like the game would finish level until midfielder Phiri unleashed a stunner to win the game in injury time.

Next up … The World Cup! Now the pundits have been keen to point out how lowly ranked we are; there are no South Africa players in the potential Golden Boot or Best Player list and we're still a bit surprised to be there. But we will do our best! One game at a time ...
Group A Game 1
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For most of our opening World Cup game, this was a comfortable encounter. We ran Iran ragged, creating chances to score regularly. Tau was at the heart of most the action and was in the right place at the right time to score following some penalty box pinball. In the second half, he laid the ball on for substitute Zungu to score. The game should have been plainsailing from then on but a late soft penalty meant that Iran got their consolation goal towards the end.

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So we finish the first round of games top of our group and we're already defeating pundits' predictions that we'd be lucky to get a respectable score in the tournament. However, the next two games don't look so easy as we face tournament favourites France and hosts Russia ...
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Group A Game 2
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A game where we were totally outplayed. The same XI as played against Iran lined up here but right from the off, France had control . We simply couldn’t cope with the likes of Martial and co running the wings. Khune also didn’t have his best day between the sticks and the net result was we were well beat.

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So it all comes down to the last game and the hosts, Russia…

Group A Game 3

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And that’s it! Russia started on the front foot and got an early goal to set them on their way. When Ndovlu scored his well-deserved world cup goal and put us level I thought we were back in the game. But then Russia scored again and we simply imploded. Everyone in a gold shirt simply stopped running. Both full-backs and centre-halves just let the ball go past them and we shipped 4 goals in 9 minutes. All of my responses were becoming more Pearce-esque by the minute (aggressively demanding more) and, following a half-time hair-dryer, we at least won the second half. But it wasn’t enough.

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I congratulate the team on competing in the World Cup and tell them that from now on, they won’t be a team to just make up the numbers. Little do they know however, that I’m already casting my eye around for any managerial casualties from the tournament and higher-ranked countries willing to take me on…
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And it’s Belgium that take me on! Despite South Africa having a goal difference of -10 by the end of the World Cup, they feel I’m the man. Many might say this is a much easier job but things haven’t been going well. Unlike real life, Belgium’s World Cup didn’t end with any sort of medal. They failed to win so much as a single point in their group and crashed out having only scored one goal – and that was a Hazard penalty.

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So my aim is to take on the golden generation for the rest of their time and improve their performance in the next World Cup (Mission 1 is keep the job that long!) To help me in achieving this, I’ve shaken up the backroom staff a little. Martinez and Wigan stalwart Graeme Jones leaves his job as assistant manager and is replaced by 66 year-old German Peter Hermann who has been an assistant at most of Germany’s big clubs at one point or another in the last ten years. Also, Charleroi coach Rudy Heylen joins the team. Both have high skills for judging a player’s ability which will help me in selecting the best individuals out there to put on the national shirt.

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Witzsel, Bongonda, Batshuayi, Janssens, Svilar

Carrasco, Benteke, Castagne, Sels

So I choose my squad without making too many changes to the one that played in the World Cup. Carrasco misses out through injury and I decided to chance my arm with Bathshuayi as my second striker rather than Benteke. The other two changes are bringing two young players who show good potential to succeed in the future. The captain is also changed with Spurs CB Alderweireld taking the armband and Roma’s Nainggolan becoming VC.
Overall, I’m happy with the squad but it does feel thin in areas – especially both full back positions. Some scouting will be in order ahead of the next squad I think.

7.09.18 European League Div. A, Grp 4
So in my first game as Belgium manager, we gain a comfortable win. The team dominated the game from start to finish and the possession stat of 34% shows that Sweden barely got a touch of the ball. To begin with, our chances were limited to Mertens making long-range efforts but we got better as the game went on. Both goals scored were rebounds but that takes nothing away from De Bruyne in particular who smashed his rebound in on the volley from the edge of the box. This seems like a good start!

11.09.18 European League Div A, Grp 4
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France – I just can’t beat them! In my three encounters with France in the last 12 months, I’ve lost all of them. But this was, understandably, the closest of the three games. Both sides created few chances in what was a cagey affair for the most part. We were undone by one sublime passing move which ended in Digne’s perfect cross picking out Greizmann in a crowd of players to finish. We opened up and pushed on a bit as the second half wore on but couldn’t really create anything of note. My first defeat in my new job and the end of this international window…

The next international window begins with only one change to the overall squad. Carrasco has recovered from injury and so he takes his place at the expense of Fiore. We now play Argentina in a friendly before facing Sweden away in the Nations’ League …

10.10.18 Friendly
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For the first time in this save, I decided to experiment with a different formation – 3-5-2. I felt like my teams have always been soundly beaten by stronger opposition so I wanted to see if I could shore things up a bit. Well … it worked. The possession we had plunged but we had more shots than Argentina and got the game’s only clear-cut chance. The fact that our goal was a corner and that they had another goal disallowed worries me a bit. I’ll keep experimenting in friendlies as we go. Are the full-backs I’ve got available good enough for this formation?

16.10.18 European League Div. A, Grp 4
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This started off tough as Sweden got an early goal and we looked to be well off the pace. But, having been worried about full-back quality in the last game, Menuier seemed keen to prove me wrong by suppling a huge looping cross for Carrasco to head home. As the game went on, we got stronger and stronger and then Axtzel released Hazard who burst forward and squared the ball for Batshuayi to smash the winner home.

14.11.18 Friendly
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So I decided to try the 3-5-2 again. The result was similar. We were tight at the back and restricted Jamaica to one clear-cut chance in the game. But it also stilted us going forward. Despite the instruction to exploit the flanks, most of the play went down the middle and we didn’t create as much as I’d like – 1 clear-cut chance and 5 half-chances. Nevertheless, it shores us up at the back and that might help against France …

20.11.18 European League Div. A, Grp 4
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Some big calls had to made… but it worked. To begin with, I decided to stick with the 3-5-2 and it did the desired job. We kept a clean sheet and France only had one clear-cut chance in the game. Going forward, the biggest call I made was dropping Hazard (E). I’d made him a false 9 in the last two games playing this formation but it really didn’t suit him and so, with no wing positions or AMC in this formation, he had to stay on the bench. It’s the sort of call that gets you sacked if you get it wrong but this time it worked! France dominated possession at the start of the game but we kept them limited to long-range efforts or shots from tricky angles. After that, we gradually upped our share of possession as the game went on and when Lukaku found De Bruyne on the edge of the box, the midfielder slammed home a confident volley. France kept pushing but couldn’t break us down. Courtois making an amazing close-range save from Dembele the one time that they broke through our lines at the end. So there we go and onto the semi-finals of this brand new competition…

30.03.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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So qualification begins with a routine win. Facing an easier opponent, the team returns to 4-2-3-1. The play is easy and confident and we dominate possession throughout, finishing with over 60%. Each of the goals is also the result of smooth passing moves. For the first, the ball is threaded through to Lukaku whose slide-rule pass is smashed home by De Bruyne from 25 yards. The second goal sees Carrascco split the Denmark defence and, when put through 1-on-1 Lukaku makes no mistake. Carrasco also supplies the third through a left-side cross which Lukaku volleys home from the edge of the box. Job done.
02.04.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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This is a comfortable in which Lukaku stars. To begin with, Luxembourg set up defensively aiming to shut us out as far as possible and their keen to throw their bodies on the line, making an impressive number of blocks throughout the match. Lukaku was our key to open them up though. He finishes with 2 goals and an assist. The first goal comes when a rebound falls to Vertonghan just outside the box. He threads the ball through to Lukaku who finishes comfortably. Goal 2 is a long ball up to the striker who brings it down, beats his man and then side-foots it for De Bruyne to finish. There is then Lukaku’s second and Fellaini goal from a corner to finish things off.

Two wins out of two and we’re top of the group …
The next international window sees us playing Germany in the Nations’ League Semi Final…

14.06.19 European International League Semi-Final
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We put out again as 3-5-2 and again make the big call of dropping Hazard for the game. The team are on the backfoot from the beginning but the formation does mean that for all of Germany’s possession and shots, they’re not creating clear-cut chances. They are however creating half-chances. Just before the 70th​ minute, we make a clearance, Kimmich hammers the ball back in to the far post and Volland rises highest to smash a header home. We then switch formation and bring Hazard on. We do create a couple of late chances but miss both of them. Our campaign is over.

18.06.19 Friendly
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This friendly gives me chance to play my old team who were asking for me to come back not too long ago. We control the game comfortably and two early chances fall our way. Hazard finishes both and we control the game from then on. The game feels all in aid of Hazard becoming Belgium’s record goal-scorer. It’s just a matter of time …
05.09.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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This is a comfortable performance in front of the home fans. Playing 4-2-3-1 again, Hazard simply takes them apart. We dominate possession and shots and the goals all come in a ten minute flurry just before half-time. With one of the goals and one of the assists, Hazard finishes with a rating of 9.0. On we go…

08.09.19 – Euro Qualifiers Group J
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… and here we stop! With Lukaku firing us ahead, I thought this was going to be a simple win. But the team had other ideas. Despite my half-time warnings, we let two easy goals in and Bulgaria take the lead. Nothing we can do after finds the back of the net and we end up with a defeat in a game that we really should have won. I hope it doesn’t cost us later!
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11.10.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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A shock draw here. Denmark take the lead early on and I worry that we’re going to finish up with another defeat. Denayer fires home a corner-equaliser and I start to calm down only for the team to ease up and let in a soft goal. Everyone is pushed forward as the game comes towards its finish and in the last few seconds of injury-time, a corner is flicked out to Nainggolan who then fires straight into the back of the net from 20-odd yards to pinch us a last minute point!

14.10.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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With the group getter closer and closer, especially after Luxembourg’s surprise win over Bulgaria, we’re keen to get a win and settle things down. And this we duly do. Lukaku takes control of the game and finishes with an impressive hat-trick to lead us in getting the win. The last goal is courtesy of a Luxembourg defender who flicks a cross beyond his own keeper and into the back of his net.

It's all very close ahead of the final qualifiying window...
15.11.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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We missed! Almost every shot was wide – 11 out of 15 in fact. And while we couldn’t score to save our lives, we allow Greece to score 3 at the other end. The group is getting really tight now between us, Bulgaria and Greece. Only two of the countries can qualify for the Euros and it will all come down to the final game …

18.11.19 Euro Qualifiers Group J
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That’s more like it! From an early Hazard goal, we take complete control. They simply can’t stop the Madrid-man and Hazard runs riot with his two goals. Lukaku gets one of the others and De Bruyne’s low cross is sent into the back of the net by a defender. So we qualify for the Euro’s in top place. That tournament will mark half-way on my journey to the next world cup…
27.03.20 Friendly
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The first game of 2020 is the first of two frustrating friendlies. Here things start well when a flicked on corner is sent home by Alderweireld. However, not too long after that, a Nigeria free-kick leads to some penalty-box chaos from the red devils and Nigeria equalise. The second half is even more frustrating as we create chance after chance but fail to put them home.

31.03.20 Friendly
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For the second of these friendlies, I’ve chosen a higher-ranked opponent in order to give the 3-5-2 another run-out. This time, it’s back in working order – we limit England’s chances and create a few of our own. The worry is though that we couldn’t finish again. Once Lukaku went off injured midway through the first half, Bathsuayi and Origi missed three glaring opportunities and as a result, England nearly nicked the game with a scrappy corner in injury time but the ball was sent wide of a gaping goal. I also tried Hazard as an MC in the second half. He had a couple of darting runs forward but created very little really.
03.06.20 Friendly
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This is the last chance to give 3-5-2 a run-out before the tournament. As has been the case before, the formation allows us to restrict them to few chances and it also has the same effect for us. Out of the two formations on offer, I still feel it’s the best for facing higher-level teams. I just hope we’re the best when it comes to penalties.

08.06.20 Friendly
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In what was supposed to be a reassuring pre-tournament goal-fest, we come up short. Many of our players going forward have an off-day, most notably Eden Hazard who produces almost nothing on either flank. In the end, De Bruyne fires in a winner to prevent this becoming a total embarrassment and that is our final game before the real proceedings begin…
So here we are at Euro 2020! It will be interesting to see how we get on and if we can show some promise towards our aim of improving our World Cup performance. There were a few injury worries in the run-up to the tournament but in the end no-one major had to miss out.
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15.06.18 European Championship Group A
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What a game! We play the familiar 3-5-2 but, for the first time, it lets us down. We concede 2 goals before half-time and we’re looking into the abyss. At half-time, I change things round, going back to 4-2-3-1 and heading onto the attack. We then go from 2 down to 3-2 up with Hazard on the rampage. But then Italy hit back and score another two to restore their lead. In the final few minutes Witsel gives away a penalty and, with it dispatched, the game is over.

20.06.18 European Championship Group A
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Well nothing in this tournament wants to be simple. The game started easily enough with Hazard setting up Lukaku to score. We create chance after chance but fail to put them away (familiar?). At half-time, I warn the team to not to get complacent. We keep creating chances but it’s Northern Ireland who put the goal in. Even after that, we keep creating chances but it looks as if the game will finish level, making things tricky in the group. But, in the last couple of minutes, we get a penalty and Hazard fires it home. In injury-time, Lukaku also scores and his second goal makes him Belgium’s top goal-scorer.

23.06.20 European Championship Group A
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At last, a straight-forward win; I made the call of resting both Hazard and Nainggolan for this game as I’ve had experience of the whole squad losing fitness in tournaments with South Africa. Origi got crossed the ball in for Lukaku to score a first-half goal. Once again, I reminded the team to avoid complacency. This time, it worked at we went on to dominate the game and De Bruyne and Lukaku completed the scoring and sent us on to the next round…
27.06.18 European Championship Second Round
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I took a chance on resting four first team players for this game as I’d got an easier draw than the top of the group got (Italy v Greece). I’ve found before, in tournaments, that my team don’t recover as well as the ai teams and I wanted as much rest for key players before the quarters as possible. This was disrupted a bit when Carrasco ran into a Georgia player and dislocated his shoulder. Hazard then came on a duly started the scoring. Lukaku scored a smart turn and finish and we were 2-0 up at HT. In the second half, Hazard scored Belgium’s third and the game was over. Alderweiereld gave them a consolation penalty but they were never in the game. Onto the quarters…

03.07.20 European Championship Quarter Final
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And that inability to finish costs us dear. We were back to full strength for this one with Origi taking Carrasco’s place on the wing. Throughout the game, we create chance after chance but fail to put them away. And then we go into self-destruct mode. Hazard gives away a soft penalty in a place where he really didn’t need to tackle and then we switch off from a corner and they’re 2-0 up. As we push forward, Serbia undo us with a long ball over the top and we’re 3-0 down. We go to an attacking 3-5-2 with two wingers rather than wing-backs as it allows us to have two up front. Mertens repays with a fine finish but overall it’s too little, too late.

Overall, I think it was a good tournament. I was disappointed that we didn't have the quality to beat Serbia but it feels like a positive performance all told and I think that it promises well that we can do OK at the next world cup...
So, following a promising Euro's, we return to International League Action in a group with France and Denmark - both teams that we know well from the recent past. We're the middle seed in the group so it would be a turn-up to beat France but we did it last time so you never know

04.09.20 International League Division A Group 3
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What a game! A real topsy-turvy match kept everyone on the edge of their seat. We begin the game by taking the lead before France bring it back to 1-1. Lukaku then scores a 9 minute hat-trick to make the score 4-1. Martial then scores so we go into HT at 4-2. In the second half, France turn it on and score another two goals to make it level. Just as I begin to wonder if we’re going to let a famous win slip out of our hands, the youngster, Lenaerts, comes of the bench and scores on his debut to secure that vital win!

08.09.20 Friendly
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This game is a close affair that really comes down to finishing. We set up defensively and for most of the first half, we keep Argentina away from our goal and carve out a few chances of our own. But either side of HT, there is first an own goal and then a 25 yard belter from De Paul which gives them a flattering lead. We push forward in the second half but it looks like it will make little difference to scoreline until Hazard flicks the ball over their keeper and into the net in the 90th​ minute.