What if… Euro 2016 had 16 teams?

In addition to some of the finest football writing and podcasting the internet has to offer, we at The Beermat have exclusive access to the world’s first multiverse viewfinder. Plug in all the information that was relevant at the time, we can flip the beautiful game on it’s head and have a look at a world where certain key moments went the other way. Armed with the worlds largest supply of bullshit, we can investigate alternate realities. All with the magic of one simple question. What if?

First up, we’re going to look back at the summer of football just gone and ask…

What if Euro 2016 had sixteen teams instead of twenty four?

No one really cares that much now that we’re the other side of it, I mean it was a whole two England managers ago. Changing the tournament format did however at first put a real dampener on things. While we all marvelled at the underdog achievements in the expanded Euros, it was it’s compacting of all the best teams from around the continent that really got the mouth watering. It’s easy to get carried away with a group that contained Italy, France and the Netherlands as Group C did in 2008 (for the record, Romania were the final team in that group and didn’t even finish bottom) but it’s harder to feel the same kind of anticipation for Austria, Portugal, Iceland and Hungary. What the Euros did that the World Cup with it’s thirty two teams could not, is align big nations together in a group in a veritable clash of the titans. Sure, there were occasions when that wasn’t the case (Group A in 2012 is a perfect example of this) but with this new twenty four team line up, the chances are we’re never going to get a real group of death ever again. With that in mind, let’s work backwards and see exactly what would have happened if Euro 2016 only had a sweet sixteen.

Qualifying

It turns out, the process – given the way the groups were structured – is remarkably easy to narrow the field from twenty four to sixteen. France are our hosts, naturally they’re in first. Then we add the nine group winners to make ten. From here we round up the teams that finished second and rank them using the same process that UEFA used to determine the best third place team.

second-placed-teams

The top three second place teams also get automatic qualification, leaving six teams to vie for three slots. Slovakia are cruelly denied by virtue of goal difference as Russia, Iceland and Romania join the ten teams already in. That leaves six teams vying for three spots. This draw was seeded based on the FIFA rankings of the six nations left. Names were quite literally put into a hat and what came out with was as follows.

Poland VS Croatia

Albania VS Switzerland

Slovakia VS Wales

Let the games begin…

Playoffs

Poland and Croatia engage in nearly two hundred minutes of insanity over two legs. Roberto Lewandowski is surprisingly quiet but Arkadiusz Milik scores twice as the game in Krakow ends 3-3. The game in Zagreb is much more of a tame affair, with Ivan Rakitic scoring the crucial goal that sends the Croats into raptures. Poland have their chances but are left to rue their luck in front of goal and must sit out the summer.

Albania go into their game with Switzerland full of confidence and being quietly tipped to cause an upset. It’s the home side that are upset however, a goal down inside five minutes and a man down by the half hour mark, former Sunderland man Lorik Cana receiving his marching orders. Fabian Schar scored what would prove to be the only goal of the game as Switzerland’s finishing became increasingly wasteful in the second half but are never punished. The game in Basel is much more comfortable for the Swiss as they wrap up a 3-0 aggregate win, with their midfield dominating proceedings. Albania put up a fight but eventually go home, having not really so much as thrown an punch.

Wales make light work of Slovakia in Trnava but are unable to make the most of Sam Vokes’ opener and have to settle for a 1-1 draw when Marek Hamsik fires in late on. The Millenium Stadium is absolutely bouncing for the second leg, which they win comfortably by three goals to one. Dean Saunders coins the phrase “Gwanyebalstards” after having had one too many celebratory drinks during his commentary.

Group Stages

Seeding

First of all, the seedings as they would have been given all the teams involved; national coefficients at the time listed here. France are automatically granted a top seed as hosts.

Pot 1: France, Germany, Spain, England

Pot 2: Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Russia

Pot 3: Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic

Pot 4: Romania, Iceland, Wales, Northern Ireland

Draw

With all sixteen teams now confirmed, the teams are placed into four pots and drawn out at UEFA headquarters. In actuality, we did this at Beermat HQ (aka the pub) and it was a lot less of a drawn out an exhaustive affair. When all was said and done, Roy Hodgson was feeling very smug. Chris Coleman less so. Micheal O’Neil would have also been asked for comment but nobody knew what he looked like.

Group A: France, Russia, Croatia & Northern Ireland

Group B: Belgium, Wales, Germany & Czech Republic

Group C: Romania, Portugal, Austria & England

Group D: Italy, Switzerland, Iceland & Spain

And so fast forward six months. Leicester still win the league, all the squads remain the same which means Danny Drinkwater misses out on Euro 2016 again. All set?

The Tournament

group-a

Matchday 1

Joy and bemusement all around as David Guetta officially opens the tournament. Joy for all those watching around Europe and the world and bemusement back on home shores as there appears to be no sign of any mimes, garlic scarves and a distinct lack of baguettes. On the pitch hosts France take on what used to be Fabio Capello’s Russia. They continued to be named this by ITV and the BBC throughout the tournament as no-one can be bothered Googling the current manager’s name. This is also compounded by the fact that it might be ever so slightly hard to pronounce and so the decision is made to make all matters non England have some sort of England theme around them. The game itself is a somewhat lowkey affair, brought to life in the second half when Olivier Giroud gives France the lead. Dimitri Payet crowns the game with a wonder-strike right at the end but nobody appears all too interested. Somewhere in the crowd, a handful of Russians ponder what might have happened had there been anyone to fight. Croatia go into the game against Northern Ireland as heavy favourites and when Luka Modric slams on in from distance just after the half an hour mark, several hipster football pundits begin their “I knew it was Croatia’s year. Have you seen their midfield?” speech. When Michael O’Neil’s side dig in and make more of a fight of it second half, the speeches are put on hold. Underwhelmingly, Croatia join France on three points.

France 2-0 Russia

Croatia 1-0 Northern Ireland

Matchday 2

Accusations of the Northern Ireland side being one dimensional are put to the sword when they spring a huge surprise in crossing the half way line against Russia. Even more so, in the second half they take the lead when Gareth McAuley heads in from a free kick. History is confirmed in the dying moments as Northern Ireland double their lead, clearly unperturbed by invoking the wrath of Vladimir Putin. Post match, shocking go pro footage of the Russian team in training is released and it turns out that yes, they really are that bad. Croatia take on France and look to be within minutes of gaining a real scalp after taking a two goal second half lead through Ivan’s Rakitic and Perisic respectively. The hosts look done for until an argument in the crowd over whether Davor Suker ever really played for West Ham turns into a full scale riot. When everything eventually calms down, late goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet rescue a point for France. Turns out he did play for West Ham.

Northern Ireland 2-0 Russia

France 2-2 Croatia

Matchday 3

Mark Lawrensen questions God, the Universe and everything as Croatia romp into a three goal lead against the Russians before half time. Fortunately nobody is watching. Attention turns to Northern Ireland against France, with the winner advancing to the quarter finals. France flatter to deceive once more but still look far and away superior. Michael McGovern is in fine form and appears to have built his own Arc D’Triumph in front of the goal. Then somebody in the comments of this article points out that an arc wouldn’t protect a goal very well at all. It doesn’t even make a particularly good joke. France score in the first half and add two goals late on to snatch top spot away from Croatia on goal difference. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland are left to rue the fact that third place doesn’t guarantee qualification from a four team group.

France 3-0 Northern Ireland

Croatia 3-0 Russia.

groupastandings

group-b

Matchday 1

Germany take on the Czech Republic and win comfortably. More difficult is the challenge facing ITV broadcasters in not mentioning the war. This fails spectacularly when Mark Pougatch mentions that Germany will march on, prompting Gordan Strachan to give a remarkably detailed break down of Czech-German relations. Wales meanwhile beat Belgium to the surprise of nobody who watched the qualifying process. A Gareth Bale free kick is cancelled out by Radja Nainggolan (Rodney to his friends) before Hal Robson Kanu comes off the bench to win it. When Sam Vokes adds a third late on, Robbie Savage fails to maintain his professionalism and calls out Hercule Poirot to a fight live on air.

Germany 2-0 Czech Republic

Wales 3-1 Belgium

Matchday 2

Marc Wilmots insists he is still the right man for the Belgium job while randomly being interviewed by Tim Lovejoy on Saturday Kitchen. The show then proceeds to show someone use some of the finest ingredients in the world to make a sub par omelette. Wilmots – taking the metaphor personally – uses all of his tactical acumen to plot a game plan to stop Germany. Belgium hold Germany to a goalless draw when the greatest plan of all emerges. Germany turn up and are okay with taking a point. Wales take on the Czech Republic and are on the cusp of qualification. A Gareth Bale free kick (that the goalkeeper should really save) puts them in front but they begin to fall back as the second half progresses. Spooked by the fact that they’re actually not the underdogs all of a sudden, Wayne Hennessey gives away an eighty ninth minute penalty which Necid converts.

Belgium 0-0 Germany

Wales 1-1 Czech Republic

Matchday 3

Sparks fly in the opening exchanges of the Wales game when Robson-Kanu scores within the first five minutes. Not only that, it’s a goal that dreams are made of. With one turn, he somehow manages to wrong foot the entire German team. Mark Lawrensen makes a pun about German inefficiency and thousands of televisions are thrown out of the window. Wales are all over the reigning world champions for the opening half an hour but go into the break level when Mario Gomez finds the net. The game is evenly poised in the second half but Germany go on to win with fifteen minutes remaining. Ashley Williams had gone down injured and was very clearly not fit enough to play but sources close to the team said he gave Chris Coleman the thumbs up, which was all the medical input he needed. Ozil strode calmly past the one legged Williams to calmly slot home the winner. Belgium meanwhile had finally hit their stride against the Czech Republic, three goals up and cruising. With the news of a German winner, all that remained was for one more goal to send them through. Cut to a montage of Marouane Fellaini jumping and pointless longshots. The fourth goal did not come and courtesy of the earlier Wales defeat, Belgium were out.

Germany 2-1 Wales

Czech Republic 0-3 Belgium

groupbstandings

group-c

Matchday 1

Roy Hodgson is very bullish ahead of the first group game and a very attacking England almost go in leading against Austria. They only manage two shots on target however during a first half that sees Hodgson wince everytime England cross half way. A crucial goalless draw is denied however ten minutes from time when Eric Dier curls in a wonderful free kick. Asked after the game whether his team deserved the win, Hodgson chose rather than to address his tactics but rather to attack his opponents. “Australia aren’t even in Europe” fumed the England manager. He wasn’t the only one grabbing post match headlines. Cristiano Ronaldo decried the Romanian team and labelled them as cowardly following their draw. Another insipid Portugal performance saw Romania level from the spot after Nani’s first half opener. Their frustration was compounded when the Real Madrid man found himself marked out of the game, by nine men at the same time. Numerous hilarious cartoons were drawn up depicting what would happen should Ronaldo ever visit Transylvania. “I couldn’t possibly ever go near him. He upsets far too many people and his hair is far too greasy” said Dracula in one of them.

Romania 1-1 Portugal

Austria 0-1 England

Matchday 2

Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend have a problem. All they want to do is talk about England and Cristiano Ronaldo and yet Romania and Austria keep playing and getting in their way. ITV do a remarkable job of feigning interest in the early kick off, showing an entire highlight before talk turns to what Hodgson might do against the Portugeese winker. On the pitch, Romania take the lead again via another Stancu penalty only to be pegged back in the second half by Marco Arnautovic. It is forgotten about by all involved some moments after the final whistle and yet somehow, the England Portugal match manages to be worse. In a game lacking any real quality, with both teams looking disjointed and unwilling to commit men forward, boredom threatens to turn into despair when Quaresma is fouled inside the penalty area. Ronaldo steps up, huffs and puffs as he does and then goes on to hit the post. The whole world laughs. Joe Hart inexplicably then manages to throw the rebound into his own net. The whole world laughs harder. Pep Guardiola in the stands offers consolation in the stands, shouting “Bravo! Bravo!” whenever Hart touches the ball again. Hodgson dips into his tactical bag of tricks to try and rescue the game and arrives at a masterstroke by bringing on the players whom he should have started with. Vardy, Sturridge and later Marcus Rashford come on to force the issue and combine brilliantly in the dying moments to conjure an equaliser. Sturridge dances in front of the England fans and Hodgson too breaks out his signature move, looking increasingly bewildered in the world of international football.

Romania 1-1 Austria

England 1-1 Portugal

Matchday 3

“Ours to lose” proclaims Gary Cahill. “We know what we have to do and we’re confident we can get the job done” says Harry Kane before the match, also serving as a reminder that he was actually there. An England win over Romania – no matter what the result in St-Etienne between Portgual and Austria – will guarantee top spot. What unfolds is a goalless draw for the ages. The dark ages that is. With Portugal going into half time losing by two goals to one, England and Romania can shake hands and book their passage through to the quarter finals. Then Ronaldo happened. Goalless in the tournament thus far and with the footballing world ready to pounce on him following Lionel Messi’s fifteen goals against the USA in the Copa America the night before, the pressure was on. On sixty minutes he struck, a tidy backheel finish after a slick passing move. On sixty one minutes, David Alaba scored Austria’s third. By this point, some of the England and Romania players were sitting on the grass picking daisies. Portugal would not be halted however, and on seventy minutes when Ronaldo threatened to cry and or hold his breath until a free kick was awarded, they would have their way back into the game. His previous fifty seven attempts had all gone wide or over but this one found the back of the net, prompting an overzealous Andy Townsend to proclaim that “He’s not bad from that distance.” The winner came straight from kick off, with Austria falling over the deadly power of the narrative. Ronaldo was bestowed the ball by Robert Almer in goal and allowed to complete his hattrick. With that, attention finally turned back to England and now suddenly the idea that a Romania goal would knock them out, Hodgson’s men held firm, not even considering to look for the winner that would have given them top spot. “We’re pleased to have gotten through, not in the manner we would have liked but we’ll fancy our chances against anyone in the next round” platituded Roy after the game.

England 0-0 Romania

Portugal 4-3 Austria

groupcstandings

group-d

Matchday 1

Italy take to the field against Switzerland amidst much criticism. Noted scholar of Italian football Ian Wright even goes so far as to claim prior to the game that “they ain’t doing it for me”. While the team does not possess many of the high profile names of the past, what transpires is very much a throwback. Solid defending and incisive on the break, Switzerland barely throw a punch. Shaqiri stands there motionless. You know he’s going to do something but not today. Spain meanwhile take on upstart Iceland who don’t even know they’re upstarts yet. A lack of real penetration threatens to cause yet another death for tiki taka (even though they don’t really play that way any more), who at this point has been killed more times than Freddy and Jason combined. Spanish blushes are saved however by a late Pique header.

Italy 2-0 Switzerland

Iceland 0-1 Spain

Matchday 2

Iceland once again prove themselves more than adequate against a European super power, holding out Italy until the dying moments. Eder (no, not that one) breaks the hearts of football fans everywhere with a strike two minutes from time. Following the game, there is an outpouring of pandering and condescension. More importantly, Wrighty still isn’t convinced by what he’s seen from Italy. Switzerland meanwhile are torn apart by Spain. A double from Alvaro Morata either side of half time is sandwiched between a Nolito strike which sees tiki taki rise from the grave (even though they don’t really play that way any more) once again. A late Granit Xhaka strike gives some respectability to the score and Shakiri still waits. Coiled like a snake. Not yet.

Italy 1-0 Iceland

Switzerland 1-3 Spain

Matchday 3

Two wins from two games each, Italy and Spain clash for top spot. Conte rests a few of his key men and were seemingly out of it when Morata scored within the first ten minutes. Sergio Ramos had the chance to double the lead but he instead chose to allow the goalkeeper to save it, undoubtedly feeling sorry for the worst Italian side in the last twenty years. At half time, Gianfranco Zola in the ITV studios was moved to tears by Wrighty’s half time twitter rant, which then in turn helped inspire a comeback for the ages. A Emanuelle Giaccherini double confounds everyone, not least of all Sunderland fans but after all the ridicule it is Italy who go through to the knockout stages as the only team with maximum points. Meanwhile in Nice, Xherdan Shaqiri puts on a show for the ages. In one of the best solo performances of the tournament, he even manages to bag what could easily be goal of the tournament; a stunning overhead kick from the halfway line. The only problem with that is that it all came after Iceland had taken an early two goal lead. As Iceland players celebrate with their fans what will go down as a historic win, Shaqiri looks around glumly, wondering why no-one will congratulate him on his individual piece of brilliance.

Spain 1-2 Italy

Iceland 2-1 Switzerland

groupdstandings

Quarter Finals

qf1

The BBC pull out all the stops. They wheeled out Ryan Giggs for the game and even got Tom Jones to say a few words in a highlight package that included everyone from Rob Brydon to all the other people that aren’t James Corden from Gavin and Stacy. Lawro had to be sedated at the risk of him making a series of jokes all with the same “It’s not unusual…”punchline. Even then, nobody could have dreamed of the start that Wales would make. A penalty and a goal to the good just three minutes in when Gareth Bale converted after Paul Pogba clumsily brought down Joe Allen. From there France looked shell shocked as only the saves of Hugo Lloris would keep them in the game. At half time the hosts looked down and out “Wales have been superb. Can’t see any way back in it for the French” mumbles Alan Shearer through his foot. N’Golo Kante is given the hook at the start of the second half, prompting calls that could in no way backfire that Didier Deschamps has lost the plot. Inside five minutes Griezmann has the game level and moments after that he then gives them the lead. All hell breaks loose after Aaron Ramsey is shown a straight red for a last ditch challenge on Dimitri Payet. Without him controlling the middle of the park, the Welsh aren’t capable of keeping the ball or maintaining any kind of threat. Moussa Sissoko adds a late goal which on the balance of play is rather harsh but does add another ten million to his inevitable transfer away from Newcastle.

FT France 3-1 Wales

qf2

Defeat for Spain prior coupled with Portugal’s entire campaign barring one half of football in the final group game makes for a subdued build up to what becomes a cagey industrious nothing of a game. Having been advised to go back and study old footage to make Portugal great again (a phrase that in this reality, only exists here), Fernando Santos went back and loved what he saw… from Greece in 2004 and so set about moulding his team into a living breathing mass of extinction, capable of taking away the life from any game. Oh, and give the ball to Ronaldo at any given opportunity. The Spanish look bemused by this strategy and know that eventually they’ll be able to thread the ball into the right areas, it just needs one more pass. And so on. There are no efforts on target in the ninety minutes. Phonelines at the Samaritians are gridlocked at the horrors unfolding in Lens. Those that brave all of it are even robbed of penalties when Ricardo Quaresma heads Portugal in front three minutes from time. Let us never speak of this game again.

Portugal 1-0 Spain AET

qf3

France panicked their way into the semi finals, Portugal bored everyone to tears. Germany just went out there and won, as is the German way. All the talk of Croatia finally being able to put together enough to go on and potentially win a major trophy once again seems premature as they freeze on the big stage. Jerome Boateng put the World Champions in front just before the ten minute mark and Julian Draxler sealed the easy victory with half an hour left to play.

Germany 2-0 Croatia

qf4Conquerors of England some four years ago at what was the beginning of Roy Hodgson’s reign, here was a chance to put things right. Speaking of which, having earlier been so critical of the Italians, Ian Wright is now well aware of the dangers that they possess. “They can get you, and when they get you they defend very well” warded Wrighty. Everyone was anticipating a tight affair, with neither Conte nor Hodgson willing to go for broke too early. There were three goals in the first twenty minutes. England even took the lead; Wayne Rooney actually getting inside the box for a change rather than his usual well known position of midfield and firing beyond Gigi Buffon. It wouldn’t last long. Graziano Pelle levelled the match two minutes later before Simone Zaza completed the comeback from the spot. Being as though he scored it, everybody marvelled at his inventive run up and definitely didn’t mock it repeatedly. There were no more goals. No late heroics. England out. Again. On the bright side, even though it was plain to see his incompetence, because there’s no humiliation in losing to Italy, Roy Hodgson keeps his job. Sam Allardyce likes this.

Italy 2-1 England

Semi Finals

sf1

Tactically it doesn’t get any better than this. Ahead of his arrival at Chelsea and well before he’d lose two games in a row and be seen as a nobody, Antonio Conte was seen as the best manager in the tournament. Ahead of him and his Italy side lay arguably the best team. Germany came out on top of the opening exchanges, with Buffon and the woodwork standing between them and a foot in the final. On the stroke of half time, it would be the Italians who would take the lead however after Schweinstiger tugged on the shirt of Insigne. Such moments are when football games are decided, except when they aren’t. Germany were able to pick themselves up and level through Mario Goetze some fifteen minutes before the final whistle. Extra time could not separate them and so it went right down to the wire. It’s penalties. Germany are taking part. You know the rest.

Germany 1-1 Italy – Germany win 4-2 on penalties

sf2

It was billed as a complete mismatch. There were much more deserving teams to have a chance of doing this than Portugal. It was almost as if there was this separation between the polarizing figure of Cristiano Ronaldo and the hard work that the rest of the team were doing that reduced them to nothing more than a “horribly negative” team. Or even worse; they were just lucky. Had this been a final, there would have been the potential for both teams – France very specifically – to play the occasion rather than the opponent. As it was, they were calm and had a game plan and weren’t anywhere near as afraid as they *might* have been. A game plan that all went to out of the window when Portugal took the lead just after half time. Ronaldo, of course. Typical. One man team. Then Nani went and scored a second three minutes later and suddenly this was happening. It was time for a hero to step up for France. Or in lieu of one, Olivier Giroud. With twenty minutes left and all hope fading, they would not wave the white flag just yet. Portugal stood firm, defending manfully until the pressure told. Andre Pierre Gignac levelled for France with ten minutes left to play. Then the unthinkable happened. Ronaldo was taken off injured in a collision with Dimitri Payet. Extra time loomed. With Portugal missing their “only good player” and seemingly playing for penalties, there was only one way it could possibly go. If you guessed former Swansea City misfit Eder would score an improbable long range shot with just minutes left of extra time, you would be wrong. That would never happen. Jose Fonte bagged one from a scramble off a corner. Obviously.

France 2-3 Portugal AET

Final

final

A team that had to play their hearts out just to earn even grudging respect from world football versus a team who had it in spades and had hardly gotten out of first gear. All the pre match speculation surrounds the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo. Awful, awful (seriously) red top newspapers print out scans of his ankle for people to either pray to or send bad vibes. A morally ambiguous betting company runs a promotion which include odds for his leg to be amputated. Everyone gathers around their television and holds their breath as Jim White, patron saint of breaking news confirms (along with a scrolling yellow ticker so that even people with a lazy eye know) that Ronaldo *will* start against Germany. They then unaimously change the channel to either ITV or the BBC, who are actually showing the game.

From the first whistle, it is very clear something is wrong. Not just because it’s Mark Clattenburg in charge and he’s bound to have done something stupid either. Ronaldo is visibly in pain, not helped by a fifth minute challenge on him by Joshua Kimmich that the referee fails to spot (told ya). Germany are in complete control of the game, imagine every sporting montage you’ve ever seen only it’s not particularly villainous or directly antagonistic but rather expertly efficient team play. Portugal’s stout defence is breached not long before the half hour mark. One becomes two on the stroke of half time. Cue the half time introspection before the rousing speech.

The dressing room is a cold and lonely place. Ronaldo slinks down. There is a lot of noise all around him but he pays no attention and to be fair most of it is in Portugeese and I can’t translate. A shiver runs down his spine as the lights begin to dim. Darkness. Then a voice calls out to him. “Cristanoooo….” There’s nobody there. What a time for the mind to play tricks. “Cristianooo…” Ronaldo turns around with a fright and is confronted by the ghost of Lionel Messi [fyi, he’s not actually dead, simply enjoying a spectacular out of body experience following Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Chile in the Copa America final].

“What are you doing here?” said Ronaldo, after I cleared up all the expletives.

“I’m here to warn you..”

“..about implausible and unexplainable dream sequences? I know, I’ve already seen Batman V Superman..”

“No. It’s about us. About the rivalry” Messi spoke in an expositional tone. “If you let this happen, if Germany win, they will say it’s all over…”

“That’s ridiculous” exlaimed Ronaldo. “You weren’t even on the pitch when the winner was scored. Who would declare either of us to be superior based on the performance of other players?”

Both Messi and Ronaldo look to camera.

“This rivalry. It’s what keeps us going. We need it to continue. You have to turn this game around..”

“Seriously?” Ronaldo was puzzled and angry. Puzangry. “It was a terrible nothing game where Chile choked and the goal in extra time was a fluke. How does that make you better than me?”

“I don’t make the rules” Messi shrugged before handing over a bottle. “Here, take this”

“What is it?” Ronaldo tried to make out the words. It said Human Growth Hormone Lionel’s secret stuff.

“Take this and you’ll be fine….” His words trailed off as Ronaldo took a swig of what my lawyers have advised me to say was most definitely water. Suddenly he was back in the Portuguese locker room in Paris. And he had a job to do.

Germany were unaware of the onslaught that awaited them. Inspired by their once again mercurial number seven, Portugal roared back into life. Fifteen minutes of bombardment and the inspired Manuel Neuer appeared to have done enough to pour water over the Iberian flames. Then it happened. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven German players bypassed by one man. A red streak of a man as he wove in and out of the trailing legs, who were unable to slow him down let alone stop him. The finish itself was one brimming with anger as the ball was slammed home into the net. Nani ran away screaming, jumping with with joy. After all, he’d just seen Cristiano Ronaldo score one of the best goals of all time. What had been a sleek German engine was now coughing and spluttering. Quaresma fired wide. Neuer saving low down from a Bruno Alves header. It looked like time would beat Portugal rather than Germany. The ninety minutes were over. Six more to come. Five of them went by incident free.

Then – of all things – a long ball caught Neuer out. He was doing the sweeping bit but forgot the keeping part of the equation. As if preordained, the ball fell to Ronaldo. Under pressure from the German keeper immediately, he lifted it over and tried to chip the ball into an empty net. As it hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity there looked to be too much power. Finally it came down. Crossbar. On the line? Over the line? Known for his keen sense of drama, the man in charge of the goalline technology allowed play to continue. That and the fact that he really wanted to be sacked from his job. Chaos reigned. Some players surrounded the ref. Some celebrated. One player did neither. Bastian Schweinstiger’s wild clearance had stayed in play. Mario Goetze watched it carefully. In spite of all that had gone on, the game had not yet officially been halted. So he did what footballers do. He put the ball into the Portugal net. Rui Patricio tried but failed to stop it. All attention turned to Clattenburg. It would either be a goal for Portugal and extra time, or a goal for Germany and the European Championship.

Full Time – Germany 3-1 Portugal

Silence filled the stadium. Which is pretty fucking remarkable given Germany had just won the bloody thing. Ronaldo hunched over in the centre circle, picking himself up and gathering his thoughts. There were no tears, no histrionics. In their place was something he had never had before. A quiet, modest dignity. In the crowd a very old man – the farmer looking type – begins to slow hand clap. It filters and builds until everybody, even those on the pitch are wildly applauding the gallant effort. Battling through injury, with an inferior team and still coming just a hairs breadth away from taking into extra time and losing to Germany on penalties. Gary Lineker is moved. “You couldn’t write a script like it”. He has no idea. Talk turns to the Herculean effort put in to turn the game around in the second half. “For me though, you’ve got to get the job done” crows Alan Shearer, building to a point. “…and until he can win something for Portugal, Messi will always be number one for me.”

A laugh echoes throughout the world.  Argentine and diminutive but definitely sinister.  Oh did I not mention that Lionel Messi is evil in this universe? How can you tell him apart from the good one? He has a very distinctive facial hair.  Bleach blond and a ginger beard…

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