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Rewriting History....Austria Euro 2004 Challenge


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It was saturday 6th April 2003, and I was in Chisinau, Moldova. Odd. Even odder, I was in the dressing room of the Austrian National Team as they prepared for a vital Euro 2004 qualifying match against the hosts. With 3 points to make up on the Czechs (who have a game in hand) and 4 on the Dutch, it was little surprise the atmosphere was at best resigned. Which is what the former Austrian manager had done earlier that day. Most odd of all, the team were all sitting waiting for me to speak. "Weel, mister?" one asked. I glanced around for help from my assistant. I dont have one. Bugger. I stood up straight.

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It was saturday 6th April 2003, and I was in Chisinau, Moldova. Odd. Even odder, I was in the dressing room of the Austrian National Team as they prepared for a vital Euro 2004 qualifying match against the hosts. With 3 points to make up on the Czechs (who have a game in hand) and 4 on the Dutch, it was little surprise the atmosphere was at best resigned. Which is what the former Austrian manager had done earlier that day. Most odd of all, the team were all sitting waiting for me to speak. "Weel, mister?" one asked. I glanced around for help from my assistant. I dont have one. Bugger. I stood up straight.

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In this story I will attempt to rewrite history by managing Austria to Euro 2004 qualification at the expense of the Czechs or the Dutch, beginning with 4 games left. Dont ask me why I chose to do this, I know very little about Austrian football, I just kind of settled on it while mulling over a new career game. It is almost certainly an impossible task. Updates will be irregular, my apologies for this but unless someone is willing to pay for me to sit on my arse and play CM4 I will have to continue working for a living. I am writing this for myself but if anyone is actually reading it would be nice to know!

Starting Table

Remaining Fixtures

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"Errr, right then lads, you all speak english dont you?" I asked forcefully.

A few non-commital grunts and mutters responded.

"Good" I said firmly. "Look, I dont know you and you dont know me. Fine. Whats important is you win this game, get your qualifying back on track and then if Im still here we can get to know each other better. But no gay stuff."

Silence.

"They havent got no one. You lot might not be the cream of europe but you are all good professionals. You, who do you play for?" I asked the nearest player to me

"1860 Munchen" replied the boy Stranzl

"Ooh nearly" I said, "Its 1860 Munich actually. But there you go, decent team. You?" I asked the mulleted fella opposite

"Brescia" the mullet responded

"You?" I asked the keeper

"Chelsea" replied Jurgen Macho

"Pfft yeah right" I scoffed."Anyway, your better than them. Lets go out with a bog standard 442 and see what happens. I dont know much about you so Im just going to have to make up team selection. Who are the right backs? OK, you start. Left backs?"

As we finished choosing the team, the bell rang and I made to leave the dressing room.

"No motivational team talk mister?" asked Harald Cerny, looking a little concerned

"Oh yes of course. Everyone L-I-S-T-E-N. Dont be crap."

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Saturday 7th June 2003 15.00

Moldova v Austria

Republican, Chisinau

Dry, 16c

Austria Line Up

Wolfgang Stark blew up to begin the game in the Republican. i made my way to the bench, which seemed a long way from the pitch. There was an eerie atmosphere,mostly due to the lack of fans and how far away you are from the action. Things were warming up nicely however as straight from the off, Markus Schopp beat the Moldovan right back to a long punt and he nodded across the 18 yard box to find Mario Haas open. He must score. He fired one, but the funny looking russian lad in the moldovan goal diverted it over the bar. Arse. This silky move was somewhat undermined by what followed minutes later, as centre back Ehmann attempted to float a Beckham like 50 yard pass out to Weissenberger on the left. For 'pass' read 'punt' and for '50 yard' read 'ended up in the car park'. We were looking good though, well in truth the moldovans were looking like rotters. And that wasnt just the women. On 6 minutes, Schopp again beat the full back on the right, and knocked one in to the free Lexa who had advanced from his midfield role. He curled it deliciously into the right hand corner, and GOAL we were deservedly winning!

Throughout the first half, the Moldovan 352 was allowing Schopp and Weissneberger on the wings too much space, and we were carving out chances. However we went into the break just the goal to the good. As I got them in, the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed. There was lots of germanic grunting and back slapping which I assumed was good. But the job was only half done.

"We will win this boss" Schopp tells me "The formation suits our game, our last coach was too...tactical."

"Good, thanks. I think. Lets stick to it. Everyone fit?"

A hand went up. Weissenberger, him and Schopp had been running the show first half. Bugger.

"What?" I ask

"Im knackered mister. Too much pretzels before the game...I didnt expect to play...now the cramps...the salt...oh the HORROR"

"How odd. OK, ermm, Flogel you drop back to left wing"

"LEFT WING???" came the oddly scottish austrian accented reply

"Yep I heard you can play just about everywhere else and you can use you left foot, get on with it"

"Mayrlbfadsh oh however you say it, your on up front"

"Yes mister" said Mayrleb, sounding uncannily like an Igors "yesh mashter"

The second half was mostly dour as Moldova huffed and puffed but couldnt mount anything of note. Good. We had more chances but couldnt extend our lead. A little worrying. I brought on Kutzner for our injured left back blokey and Cerny for Schopp to imcrease the experience for the final minutes. Then, on 89 minutes, Moldov abroke through. Dont ask me how, it was such an unlikely event that I wasnt watching. But a brief increase and rattle among the 22000 supporters brought to my attention there Kirilov fella having a free run on goal. He shot, but Manninger palmed it over. Phew. Three corners and a lot of Moldova pressure later, and Mayrlbha got hold of the ball and the referee blew up. A 1-0 away victory. Not to be sniffed at.

Kurier ratings

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As the players sat jubilantly in the changing room and unwound, I made my way outside to be interviewed by the austrian news guy in faltering english. He had a massive grin on his face.

"It ees a fantastic result no, unbelievable" He says

"Well, yes its always good to win, but we would hope to beat teams like this" I replied a little confused as to his enthusiasm

"No no no, it ees incredible. Die nederlands die nederlands!" he attempted

They had been playing in Belarus as we played here

"What about them?" I askl

"Zero zero. It is fantastic no!"

Belarus had got a bore draw with the Dutch! This gives us a chance! We were within 2 points of table toppers Holland with three left to play. And the last two were only away in Holland and at home to the Czechs.

Oh wait yeah that would be tough.

We were almost certainly going to have to win in Holland to stand any chance of making it to Euro 2004.

Latest Table

Next update to follow soon...

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Cheers OMDave, could be short and sweet this one if I fail miserably huh icon_biggrin.gif

I got the job because I had lied. Thats the truth of it. I was stuck in Vienna for a day after a connecting flight had been cancelled, the airline had put me up in a decent hotel after I had threatened to set fire to myself if they didnt. What with their not being much in Vienna save for a lot of bars and even more students, I had in boredom retired to the hotel bar for the evening. I had got chatting to another guest at the bar, Eurogoals was on eurosport on the telly and we discussed football. He was an elderly gentleman, very austrian, who spoke reasonable english. He asked me what I did for a living, as I seemed to know a bit about obscure european football. Thats when I lied. I had told him I was manager of a team in Sweden. I dont know why I did it, I was bored and drunk, I needed the money etc. Im an accountant with a rather sad subscription to cult football magazines thats all. He had looked interested and quizzed me further on this,as you do, and with incredible face and confidence I spun quite a story about the ups and downs of my management career in the hellenic league of england and scandinavia. Apparently I had earned my UEFA badge under Steve McLaren! Anyway, he looked suitably impressed and eventually I stumbled up to bed when he went to the toilets.

Next day,as I sat in Vienna Internationals departure lounge, an announcement came over the tannoy. "To passenger Mr Tiggy, flight GHeins-zwei-drei-funf, please make yourself go at Airport Information where there is a phone call for you"

You can imagine what happened next. The Austrian FA hadnt been happy with the performances of the team in Euro 2004 qualifying, a competition they were desperate to qualify for with the next one coming to Austria. They had met with Head Coach Hans Krankl, who had got the hump and left. Left with an important tie in Moldova, and no coach, a certain gentleman who had the previous evening met a slightly tipsy englishman in a bar in a Vienna hotel, said "I know someone who could do it..."

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The press back in Austria after the Moldova game was flattering, the Kurier paper announced that we never needed to move out of second gear to ease past the Moldovans. Things were looking good, and I went into my first meeting with the FA bigwigs in a charaterful Vienna apartment office with confidence.

"Ok Herr Tiggy, forsure you did well in Chisinau" said the guy with the handlebar moustache who seemed to blend in perfectly with the whitewashed walls behind him

"Thank you" I replied

"For sure the players say your manner is...unorthodox. But for sure you say you coached under McLaren..."

"Err, thats right. But I have my own umm methods"

"OK for sure. We will see. But for sure, there is the game with Belarus on wednesday, that is also most important to win for sure, anything less than qualifying is no acceptable"

"I will try my best, but surely you can see it is almost impossible!" I complained

"Quiet! Nothing is impossible! Austria will never be defeated until we are lying dead on the floor!" this was getting a bit like escape to victory "We must qualify! Austria expects! YOU will qualify us! OUT"

I left. He was a bit odd. But the job was mine, for now. Time for the Belarus game, their result against the Dutch showed they were no mugs. Wish I had some sort of coaching badge or managerial experience, then Id know what to do.

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What I did do, was follow the example of Sven Goran Eriksson and played it safe. Things seemed to work OK in Chisinau and now we were at home against Belarus,who cant be THAT much better than Moldova draw with Holland not withstanding. i had scanned the under-21s for any promising talents but I didnt see them enough in one training session to judge and it was too late for the Belarus squad anyway. What I hadnt accounted for was the fact that this was June,and the players would normally be on their close season break. They were far from fit. Two games in five days plus travelling to little known former communist countries equals knackered austrian lads. Most disappointingly, the guy I had installed as captain and my big centre half Anton Ehmann was one of them. Martin Stranzl of 1860 Munich should be an able replacement but I expect loosing leadership is something a real coach would be concerned about. The central midfielders and forwards didnt have quality replacements so would just have to make the best of it, but the experienced Cerny would mean Markus Schopp could take a rest from the right touchline.

Line Up

Wednesday 11th June 2003 19.45

Austria v Belarus

Ernst Happel Stadion

Dry 19c

Ive never been to the Ernst Happel Stadion. not a big shock i dont expect a huge amount of englishman have made it high on their list of stadiums to visit. Expecting your usual european municipal concrete oval with running track etc, I was more than a little shocked to find an almost Aztec Stadium like 55,000 capacity fully covered all seated super stadium. As the team bus approached the looming super structure I started to feel just a leeeeeeeeetle bit out of my depth. I gulped. Too late now. As we came out for the warm up, I did notice that it stillhad a pigging running track however. This was disappointing, as I was sure it would reduce the positive effect of the capacity home crowd getting behind the team. 54000 Austrians packed in, I would say it was more terse than intense but the pressure was on to perform as they clearly thought we could still qualify.

An italian referee this time, and the white shirts of our lot would play the red shirted Belorussians. The dressing room had been quiet and circumspect in the minutes before kick off, I sensed the players werent at ease with me and my lack of tactical or motivational methods aroused surprise and, increasingly, suspicioun. Especially amongst the more established players, the Cernys and Schopps and Flogels. Luckily they did all speak English, or I would have really been in trouble. the only german I know is "Meine erdbeermilch ist links um die ecke mit meine grossefahter ohne zucker, polizei! polizei!" which probably wouldnt have helped in this type of situation. Anyway, Belarus kicked off. Tactically they matched our 442, the only players I recognised where the Hlebs who played in the bundesliga.

After three minutes some clever work from Katzer pushing up from full back down the left eventually manipulated some room for Flogel who let fly from 18 yards. The keeper dived headlong and forced it out for a corner. Right back Wimmers cross was met by a Belorussian though. Harald Cerny was getting about the pitch very well, but the Belarus were not the pushovers aerially that Moldova were and this was causing us problems. On 19 minutes, Vladimir Hleb beat Hiden to a long ball and he laio it back to Kalachev. Manningers couldnt reach the low Bottom right hand corner shot, and GOAL we were losing. A real manager would probably do something now, I thought. But Im not a real manager, and I didnt know what to do. I waited. Three minutes later, Kalachevs long throw found Beganskiy unmarked 18 yards out. Stranzl had left his man again, but fair play to the Belorussian he spanked one into the top right hand corner from across goal. 2-0 down. Nightmare. I was being found out.

I roared at Stranzl to try marking his zone if he couldnt manage to man mark, which he did. Players were tired and frustrated, but with little depth on the bench there wasnt much I could do. i took them in at half time to collect ourselves and reorganise.

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"Theyre slow at the back" I told them "We can score against this lot, and if we can keep it tight at the back there is always a chance. I want you to stop trying to play the offside trap, your crap at it. Lets try and get a grip on the game, get right at them. Flogel, you look knackered. Wallner your on. Run at them they are shaky. Get out there and at least frigging score and make a game of it"

We attacked more. A bit more. A Cenry shot nearly broke their keepers hands but it stayed out. With 70 minutes gone, I started to panic. I brought Schopp on the right and put Cerny into a free role behind the strikers. Knackered Martin Hiden and Stranzl off, Ehmann on to defend pretty much on his own. Two minutes later, Haas and Wallner combined and Wallner was free down the left. Haas return ball was too long however and he had to move away from goal to collect it. He fired a low cross in and Haas got a toe to it GOAL 2-1 now with ten minutes to go. Spirits lifted. Could we rescue a point?

Three minuntes to go and Haas again collected deep,he found weissenberger in space down the left, the left foot came back and Weissenberger fired a shot....that sailed high and wide. Minutes later, the referee blew up. We had lost a game we absolutely had to win. At home. To Belarus.

In the other game of the evening, the Czechs had murdered the Moldovans 6-0. We were back where we had started five days ago, 4 points behind the Dutch and 2 points behind the Czechs. Now both teams had games in hand over us. To have any chance, we would certainly have to beat both, and on tonights performance, we had no hope. Zero. May as well pack it in now before I get properly found out and possibly lynched or something.

Kurier Ratings

Updated Table

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Thanks Harleqin, yeah my austrian impression is pretty bad, i only just found out they speak german, just hope no austrians read this icon_redface.gificon_wink.gif

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After the game, there was three months to wait before the Holland match. I got the impression I wasnt going to be thrown out on my ear when an FA secretary phoned to tell me my cabin on the outskirts of innsbruck was ready for me to move in to. Not one to look a gifthorse in the mouth, I thanked her, hung up, dialled work and resigned from my accountancy job. Reason for leaving? "Has become manager of Austria's International Football Team."

I drove to the villa in the leased Volkswagen Passat the FA had also given me (no expense spared) and settled in. I played some golf, pretended to appreciate the beautiful scenery, got drunk a lot. Happy days. These international managers who say they miss the day to day running of club football just dont knwo how to enjoy themselves. Eventually, the T-Mobile Bundesliga got underway and I felt obliged to take an interest. I had been reading up on Austrian club football, most successful club is Rapid Vienna who have won 30 first division titles, next best is Austria Vienna with 21. Rapid have won the Austrian Cup 14 times to Austria Viennas 22. Austria (1978), Rapid (1985 and 1996), and Casino Salzburg (1994) have reached the finals of European club competitions. Fascinating.

First game I went to was the superbly named GAK v Austria Vienna in the curtain raiser, the Super Cup Final. Some of my lot playing for GAK were Pogatetz, Dollinger and Aufhauser. For Vienna, Mandl, Flogel and Wagner. Missing for GAK was Ehmann. Odd. Anyway, the game was pretty one sided although it was a relataively tame affair as these games often are. 15000 in the Arnie Schwarzenegger saw Vienna took the lead on 11 minutes through croatian Vastic, set up by the impressive AMC Janocko. A Slovak, sadly. Dollinger got injured in teh first half and had to come off, didnt look too serious though so dont need to start worrying about Holland yet. Michael Goosens equalised for GAK on the stroke of half time, but the Viennese are tough cookies and they added two deserved goals in the second half from Rushfeldt and the impressive Kitzbichler, who is Austrian but unfortunately is yet another right winger. I noted him down anyway.

The reason for Ehmanns non-appearance became clear afterwards, apparently he had torn his groin muscle in pre season training and would be out for two months. *****zenhousen. Holland was 52 days away, he should be ok, but he might not be march fit. I needed to recruit another centre half, and a REALLY REALLY good one at that.

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As July turned to August, I tried to get to as many games as possible in an attempt to show I was doing something other than dossing. By the time the Premiershipi kicked off we were already 15 games into our season. i would usually take my position in the stands until I was sure the TV cameras had got a shot of me there, at which time I would go into the bar and half watch the game from there. I had been surprised by how much the locals had left me alone, I had assumed this was due to general aloofness or reservedness or simply a case of not liking this reputatedly incompetent foreigner managing the national team. As I watched the football and took note of the attendances and atmosphere at the games, I became aware that it was probably more because football isnt that huge a deal in Austria as it is in England or Italy or even Germany. Give them a bloke hammering down a mountain on a couple of fibreglass sticks, and they went mental. Give them the beautiful game, and most of them seemed to pine for the hills. Then, suddenly, it was the end of August. The Bundesliga table had Bregenz leading a close race with Austria Vienna second, GAK third, Sturm Graz fourth, Salzburg fifth, Rapid a disappointing 6th and down to Admira wacker in bum place. My squad for Holland needed picking.

It wasnt easy, even though I had more to go on now and more time. First thing I did was get the entire list of Austrian players off the FA. Scanning through the unfamiliar names, one familiar name struck me. Aldo Duscher, of Deportivo La Coruna. Must be a mistake hes Argentinian not Austrian. Some people wot are so fick ennit. But as I read along his line, it appears he holds an Austrian passport due to an Austrian grandfather. Shrugging, I phoned the FA and asked them. They confirmed this was correct. I asked why he wasnt playing for Austria, they said he had said some years ago he had wanted to play for Argentina. I asked them to phone him immediately and see if he had changed his mind.

24 hours later, I was writing the name Aldo Duscher on my squad list for the Holland game. Other new names included Steiglmeir the Bregenz centre back (Ehmann was very unlikely to be fit), FC Lustenau's centre back Christian Tamandrl, apid Viennas defensive midfielder with the very traditional Austrian name of Erbay Umit , Rostock winger Plassnegger and Harald Feuchner the Juniors striker who had scored 9 in 13 games so far.

6 days later, and we were off to Holland, one short flight later and we had our first real training session since the Belarus game on the fairway like AmsterdamArena turf. It took a while for the size and structure of the stadium to soak in, and I let the players stand and gaze - there would be no place for that the following afternoon. Once done, we made our way to our rural hotel, all organised by the FA, and ate and slept.

Next day, it was showtime.

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I dont think I ever felt any more out of my depth than I did the time we approached the AmsterdamArena by coach, knowing in a couple of hours time I had to send out a bunch of professional footballers to beat a dutch side that contained Kluivert, Mackay,Robben, Seedorf, van der Vaart and Overmars. I panicked. What was I doing? I wasnt qualified to do this. It was all an elaborate farce. It wasnt fair on this bunch of men who were becoming increasingly suspicious of my credentials but so far just seemed a little too unsure to mount a full scale revolt. They seemed a happy bunch in general, well as happy as Austrians can be, they were certainly more concerned with their club careers than their international ones as the snippets of conversation in english I heard were all about their club colleagues and how the players playing outside Austria were getting on at their respective clubs. But as the stadium loomed over us as we swept towards us, a nervous silence was all that could be heard above the coachs diesel rattle.

We made our way into the ground, and the players changed and made their way out to to warm up and acclimatise. I stared at the Dutch team sheet (so confident were they it was already in) in the hope of divine inspiration. None was immediately forthcoming, but the notable absences of Ruud van nistelrooij (unfit after injury) and Edgar Davids (hamstring) gave a sudden leap of hope in my heart. That soon faded. We had to win. But how? Play defensive and hope to spring one on them on the counter? Or go all out and pray? I mulled it over and over. This decision could be vital. One thing was for certain, I couldnt afford to play it safe like last time, personally and professionally I had nothing to gain from that. I had to be seen to have a plan.

The plan was...they were better than us especially up front. We werent going to outscore them in a slugfest. We would have to try and play it canny, pray we didnt concede and hope to catch one off a set piece or summat then defend for our lives. We could always go to hail mary if we had to. I consulted my "Big Book of Football Formations" (all good petrol stations, 99p). Being nearly in Germany, I thought they could probably manage some sort of sweeper system, indeed a couple of the new lads could play sweeper. We were light of quality forwards...it would have to be 5-4-1 sweeper.

http://pesfancm4.coolfreepages.com/hollandlineup.htm

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Duscher and Tamandl made their debuts, with two more uncapped players on the bench. I explained to the lads what the plan was, and they seemed to agree, well at least understand and nobody laughed so I must have done alright. So, as the bell rang, I sent them out. Belarus were playing the Czechs in Minsk, and in 90 minutes the dream could be over.

Saturday 6th September 2003 15.00

Holland v Austria

Amsterdam ArenA

Dry 11c

The atmosphere was amazing, orange everywhere. Really intimidating, I was glad I was on the bench rather than out there. As the national anthems rang out I pretended to sing along patriotically before noticing I was singing along to the Dutch one. I sat on the bench, and as the temperature in the stadium rose as the kickoff approached, tried to look intelligent for the cameras.

As the game kicked off to a ear splitting dutch roar, Holland picked up in 442.I noticed that Stam was also missing, Melchiot replacing him. Defensively, they were either very complacent or very stupid, because Seedorf was the most defensive of the midfielders and a defence of Melchiot and Hofland wouldnt inspire confidence in many. Maybe I shoudl have gone hail mary. Nevertheless, plans had been made and must now be adhered to. Blimey I was starting to sound Austrian.

We were playing in our away black with red trim shirts, and were almost immediately overran with orange. A van der Vaart FK was fumbled clear by Manninger as early as three minutes, and Hieblinger saw yellow minutes later. Ten minutes gone, and Overmars was free down the right. Oh no. He found the touchline before finding Kluivert with the pull back and there was only one outcome the stadium erupted. My head was in my hands. One nil down after 10 minutes. I wanted to cry.

There want much I could do, I would have to wait until things got worse before changing things. Anyway, the best teams ignore goals in the first ten minutes because they know theyre flukes. On 19 minutes, Makaay was caught offside. Manninger launched the ball forward for Haas's head. No one was more surprised than Haas when Edwin van der Saar, 25 yards out of his goal,went sailing past him in the air in the wrong direction completely missing the ball. With incredible speed of thought, he was chasing it down. It got closer and closer to the goal, it would go out for a goal kick if Haas didnt reach it. Hes quick,but is he that quick? It seemed to take a lifetime, just as it looked like hed lost it he jumped two footed and hooked it over the line GOAL we were back in it! Both Austrian fans behind me went wild. The shocked silence in the stadium was eerie, a gentleman walking past outside would clearly have been able to hear Haas and company doing that girly scream thing that players do when caught on mic celebrating a goal. A sat back in my seat, elated and already mentally exhausted. Game on!

There was no firther scoring in the first half, Holland pushed forward and had chances but the new boys Tamandl and Hieblinger were showing Martin Hiden how it should be done at the back, while Manninger was making up for his poor performance against Belarus. I decided to keep it as it was for now and make changes at the hour mark as some players were struggling for fitness. I told them the Czechs were four up in Minsk, which was true,and repeated that we needed to win. A draw, while commendable, is effectively as good as a defeat if we wanted to qualify.

The second half was fairly dour, Holland seemed to settle for the draw which meant we had to push on but we couldnt really do that and were tiring. I brought Stranzl on at left back for the knackered Pogatetz and Schopp on for also knackered (again) Weissenberger. With ten minutes left I brought on forward Wallner for the disappointing Cerny and moved Hiden up front also in desperation. This opened the game up but they were just much better than us.Defensively we were OK, although van der vaart had the ball in the net on 85 but was ruled offside. Just nohting going forward as per the last two games. Van der Vaart and Makaay had further chances but met the excellent Manninger every time, while Wallner test van der Sar with a free kick and a run and shot in the dying minutes. We pushed up and on, but we were only kidding ourselves, we knew we werent going to score. The final whistle blew, I shook hands with Dick Avocaat and made my way back inside silently to find out how the Czechs had got on and if we were out.

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Kurier Ratings

The Czechs had won 6-0 in Minsk, 2 each from Baros, Nedved and Koller, and they had guaranteed themselves at least a play off place. Mathematically we were still in with a chance of the play offs, but it was thinner than a really fecking thin thing. If the Dutch failed to get a point against either the Czechs or the Moldovans (unlikely) and we beat the Czechs (as if) then we would take the play off place. I think. Whats for certain is that Holland could knock us out in five days by getting a draw in Prague.

Table after Holland game

The media back in Austria were certainly impressed with the result. I was expecting vitriol as clearly we needed to win to have any chance but the newspapers obviously werent expecting anything less that an embarassing defeat in Amsterdam. Maybe with that result I may have repaired some of the damage caused by the Belarus result, but I still didnt expect to be in a job come failure to qualify for Euro 2004.

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On wednesday night, in Ceska Lipa, I took my seat to watch the Czech Dutch game. I was quite happy to be there, it was a mouth watering prospect, but I was praying for the Czech win that would give us that slim reprieve. The Dutch had certainly been disappointing since I had taken over in Austria, and tonight they looked tired from their efforts against us. With Stam, Davids and van Nistelrooij still out, they struggled against a Czech team who had had a practice match in Minsk. Nedved opened the scoring before half time, and while Holland still looked dangerous they went two down second half to a Baros goal. 2-0 it stayed. We werent out yet, but the Czechs were just an awesome proposition and it would take a miracle of biblical proportions for us to beat them in a months time, never mind expect the Dutch to lose against whipping boys Moldova. At home. Theyre superior goal difference meant even a draw would do them.

Next update soon

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As we awaited our date with destiny, time sailed by quickly. It was a nice life in Austria, the scenery and quality of living was great and dossing about watching the odd game just about suited me. I could get used to this.

Before I knew it, it was the 2nd October and the squad needed picking. Nobody in particular had jumped out at me in the intervening weeks, so I called up a couple of squad players but no major changes, there simply isnt that great a depth of talent in Austrian football. The squad was confirmed, and we could only sit back and consider the size of the task that lay ahead of us.

Thursday 9th October, 8am, the phone rang in the chalet.

"What" I answered groggily.

"Ello, I am calling on beehalf of Aldo Duscher, I am the physio at Depor"

"Why couldnt he call me himself?" I ask

"He does not be speaking the eenglish sir"

I hadnt noticed, I had just thought he was shy.

"OK, whats can I do for him?" I ask

"I am sorry sir but Aldo damaged the groin in training yesterday. We think eet weeell be at least 4 weeks before he is ready to play the football. He will stay here for the recuperation"

"Oh ****. OK, thats fine. If I see him playing for your team before four weeks is up, we will be talking again through FIFA. Thank you for letting me know"

Well. That was a blow, as the vicar said to the choirboy. Our one top class player out of our most important game for...probably a while I dont know to be honest I dont know much about Austrian football history. By the way, Tesco Orange and Banana juice, disgusting isnt it. Eugh. Anyway. Schatler the right back got called up in Duschers place.

As the big day approached, I was surprised by how low key it all was. In England this game would be built up and hyped to the point of boredom, but here the hype was understated. It seemed it would be a sell out, but more in anticipation of watching the Czechs than through any hope we could make it into the play offs. Austrian television seemed more interesting in Nedved training than any of our team news. I didnt mind this, I could without any weight of expectation, but it was still a nervous time.

Eventually however the big day arrived. The temperature was dropping as winter approached, and the Czech team sheet certainly chilled me. We arrived at the stadium in the cold light of day in silence, each of us praying for a miracle. I alrady knew what I would do tactically, a repeat of the defensive approach used in Amsterdam was in order. Would it work against the seemingly superior Czechs? Who knows, we had home advantage.

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To qualify for the playoffs, we had to beat the Czech Republic while Holland had to lose at home to Moldova.

Line Up

Kahraman comes in for Lexa on club form. Aufhauser replaces injured Duscher at DM and Schopp replaces the disappointing Cerny.

As the bell rang and the teams lined up in the tunnel, I waited behind them deepin thought, This was it. If (when) we failed to qualify would I be sacked? Did I want to be sacked? I was clearly out of my depth, but it was a higely enjoyable life and while Austria might not be the place I was hooked and wanted more. I didnt want to go back to accounts. The white and red shirts of us and them respictively moved forwards along the tunnel and the roar of 50,000 people hit like a wall. There was some real home support here, and the passionate rendition of the national anthem brought a lump to my throat and Id only heard it four times. The Czechs, despite having already qualified, looked awesome and determined.

The referees whistle blew and the Czechs kicked off to a cacophany of noise. The home crowd were right behind us. The Czechs attacked. Tw minutes later, a loud murmur went across the stadium. Odd. A minute later,another one, followed by an eeire silence. I walked back to the tunnel, which an Austrian FA rep was sat next to.

I didnt need to ask

"2-0 Holland. Kluivert and Van Nistelrooy"

It was over.

To add insult to injury, Ufjalusi scored after 26 minutes to hish an already almost silent crowd. The Czechs were a machine, we would never have beaten them anyway. The lads had worked out what was going on and were just going through the motions. There was little I could say at half time, no one said anything at all. In teh second half, the Czechs doubled their advantage through Baros. At the end I piled attacking players on and we threatened to get a goal for pride but it wasnt to be, and by then there were more empty seats than filled ones anyway. What an anticlimax.

Referee Stafano Farina soon ended the game and confirmed my failure.

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For the sake of interest, Austrias "real" results in these Euro 2004 qualifying games were:

Moldova 1 - Austria 0

Austria 5 - Belarus 0

Holland 3 - Austria 1

Austria 2 - Czech Republic 3

They finished on 9 points.

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I wasnt sacked. I can only think it was either the general apathy towards football in Austria, or the fact that our exit coincided with the build up to beginning of the ski season. Whatever reason, fans and FA alike seemed satisfied I hadnt let them down.

Eventually I got a meeting with the FA. Who confirmed I would still be in place for the World Cup Wualifying campaign, and to start planning towards that. Qualifying games would begin in a years time.

I spent much of the next year watching football, trying to get into skiiing, and secretly doing my UEFA coaching badges. I had to go back to england to do this where no one would recognise me, but I seemed to get away with it. It certainly gave me a few more ideas tactically. There were a couple of non-descript friendlies in early 2004, Belgium at home and Italy away which I used to try out some of the squad players. They were generally awful although we drew both games. Then, the draw for WC qualifying was announced. The FA bigwigs all went to the jolly up but apparently it would have been too expensive to take me too. Hmm. I was left to watch it on Eurosport with the rest of the serfs.

OTT Draw ceremony in Zurich. Stilted speaking ex footballers and FIFA officials are wheeled onto stage to draw teams and fail to make humourous asides that meet with complete silence.

"Group 3. First team please Rudi" The presenter rasps

"Ja vol. Die first team in group drei ist Ostereich" Rudi Voller announces, still obsessionally trying to get Rijkaards spit out of his ear

Here we go thats us.

"Thank you Rudi. Next team please Bobby"

Ah the ever present Bobby Charlton,light shining from his bald pate like an exploding star " Second team in group 3 will...Holland" Well done Bobby I thought, thats fricking great news you Manc bar steward.

"Next please Andy"

Andy Roxburgh. Promoted to FIFA for making Scotland even crapper. "Aye. The next team" he whispered "..Liechtenstein"

Thats more like it we can handle them. I know a bit about them, I read a book on them once.

"Zee fourth team in zee group trois. Eez ze Northern...Ireland" Michel Platini shared with us. And beamed the sort of smile that makes peopla want to pan the smug gets face in.

Apart from Holland we were doing alright here.

"Allo peeps." Cheerfully squawked del Bosque "Thee feefth teeem ees..Scotland"

Umm. Roxburgh looked happy with that.

"Die final team een group three. Die Slovakia" Theyd run out of personalities for this six team group and had had to go back to Rudi. He hadnt looked impressed with this, it would never have happened in Germany.

So there we have it. A tough proposition to win it but I didnt think this would be called the group of death. Second place was a real possibility. In fact, I found out the next day, the FA demanded it.

Group 3

Fixtures:

Sat 11.9.2004 Liechtenstein (A)

Wed 15.8.2004 N.Ireland (H)

Sat 16.10.2004 Scotland (A)

Sat 2.4.2005 Slovakia (H)

Wed 6.4.2005 Holland (A)

Wed 15.6.2005 N.Ireland (A)

Sat 10.9.2005 Scotland (H)

Wed 14.9.2005 Holland (H)

Sat 15.10.2005 Slovakia (A)

Another tough last few fixtures. I thought,after Holland obvously, thatSolvakia would be our main rivals although Scotland had some good young players coming through and could be dangerous.

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he league seasons came to an end across Europe as Austria warmed up after a pigging cold Austrian winter. I was fed up with skiiing. Innsbruck certainly was a beatiful city, perched as it is in the Alps with the mountain backdropping the river, its protected architecture and sense of fairytale magic. I would spend many a day in the bars on the main street, testing the various beers. I found one that makes your gums go numb after two glasses. During winter the city was heaving with winter sports types, while in summer it was quieter and more relaxed. I liked it there, although I quickly became bored of it and the distance to Vienna where most of the bundesliga teams were situated was a problem. I had my own seat on the Innsbruck - Vienna express. I considered moving to Vienna, but decided to make the best of my sitation and stay in Innsbruck as long as I could, after all the inevitable sacking probably wasnt far away and I wasnt deluged with other job offers. Austrain national manager didnt seem to do much for the reputation, even in Austria as I had tested the water about managing a few local clubs only to be met with blunt rejection. In the various leagues, Liverpool won the premiership by 8 points, Owen adn Cisse proving a lethal combination up front, with Norwich, Palace and Charlton dropping out of the top flight. Derby and Sunderland replaced them, along with one of Leicester, Millwall, West Ham or Forest. Juventus took Serie A, Trezeguet proving the doubters wrong, Hes still crap. Dortmund won the Bundesliga by a point over Wolfsburg while Bayern finished 6th. Bregenz were the winners in Austria. In Europe, Porto again won the UEFA cup beating Newcastle on penalties, while Liverpool also proved too good for Milan in the Champions League final. Goals from Riise and Owen restoring Liverpool to former glories.

Summer and the Euro 2004 championship came in Portugal. The Czech Republic were the eventual winners on penalties in an open and entertaining game against France in teh Estadio Da Luz in Lisbon. Wales had been surprise Semi-finalists, while England had also made the semis. Hosts Portugal had dropped out in the group stage which was disappointing for everybody.

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Summer came and went in Innsbruck, and I was getting really bored now. Finally, at the end of September, I could pick my squad for the upcoming games against Liechtenstein and Northern Ireland. It was a relatively straightforward choice however, as there had been no one who had stood out in the Bundesliga season so far. Only new addition was Espanyols Ivan Kristo, the 24 year old striker who had just broken into the first team in Barcelona with a couple of good performances and would replace the injured Manninger. Mahammut Akangundz would get a second chance after a poor performance in the Italian friendly on club form after Freibichler dropped out of the squad.

A cursory glance at a video of the Leichtenstieners most recent performance revealed their problem. They were crap. Apart from Mario Frick, who would have to be marshalled properly, and Brighton keeper Peter Jehle, we should beat these. Looking at their defence, and their lack of height and experience, I decided to try and steam them. 424 long ball. In came Screibl of Salzburg for his heading ability.

Line Up

We travelled to Vaduz the night ebfore in good spirits. It wasnt far and Leichtenstein is very much like a tiny Austria in terms of goegraphy amd culture so there would be no need for anything but a quick in and out. The Reinpark stadium is a small but neat all seater stadium down by the Rhine in the frankly boring town of Vaduz. The pitch would be adequate, as in truth would the small capacity as this game had not caught the imagination of the locals (most of the local working population were commuting swiss anyway) or our travelling support.

Saturday 11th September 2004 15.00

Liechtenstein v Austria

Dry 14c

Rheinpark Stadium, Vaduz

Attendance 3514

So it was a reasonably warm saturday afternoon that saw our World Cup qualifying campaign kick off in earnest. Leichtenstein coach Ralf Loose had chosen a 352 formation that looked more interested in keeping things respectable than causing us any major panic. It proved to be brittle as after 6 minutes Schreibl and Haas had already contrived to miss two sitters. Chance after chance was spurned as the massed ranks of Leichtensteiners fought for their lives. Then, oh the shame. A long punt upfield and Tamandlmissed the flight of it. Frick was free. He bore down on goal before lashing it past Mandl from 20 yards. We were one goal down. To Leichtenstein. Disaster.

A minute later, Stranzl was the man to fail to pick up Frick. From the right hand side this time, Frick repeated the trick into the far post. Two nil down. Leichtenstein went mad, they looked like they didnt know what to do, they hadnt been in this situation before. I was close to tears of embarassment and humiliation. We had another twenty chances to score up till half time but failed to make any of them count. This was awful

At half time, nobody could look anybody in the eye. I went mental at them, I just needed to get my frustration out. I changed it round to 343 and brought Kristo on, but more in hope than expectation. My self confidence was at an all time low.

We spurned chance after chance. When Frick added a third for Leichtenstein, after 69 minutes, I turned around, left the stadium and disappeared into the crisp Alp air.

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I spoke to the FA on monday, phoning from a gasthaus in Freiburg. They said no action had yet to be taken, and there was still the important matter of Northern Ireland at home on wednesday. I told them I would fulfil my contractual obligation and be there.

Depressed and begrudgingly, I arrived in Vienna by plane on wedneday afternoon. Arriving at the Ernst Happel half an hour before kick off, I reflected on the fact that in my 5 games in charge of Austria, I had won only one. I wasnt very good at this was the inevitable and gnawing conclusion. As I walked into the dressing room, there was only uncomfortable silence. No one could look anyone in the eye. I quietly expressed my disappointment at the Leichtenstein result, and noted to the players that not only was it a shambolic performance it also lacked any fight. Martin's Hiden and Stranzl were told that I would not be picking them again, and they left the dressing room in disgust. Reluctantly, I picked my team. After the Leichtenstein debacle brave tactical ploys werent ever going to be the order of the day, I switched to defensive four four two and sent them out there with the express instructions that under no circumstances were we to lose. There were many changed to the team, as those who had disappointed me in Vaduz found themselves benched.

Line up

Wednesday 15th September 2004 19.45

Austria v Northern Ireland

Ernst Happel Stadium,Vienna

Dry, 8c

With a lot of new faces and a bit more fight, some confidence was restored by Ehmanns 31st minute headed goal from a Lexa corner. Both returning players. Northern Ireland had matched our 442 but only Aaron Highes at centre back was performing. McVeigh shook our crossbar in the second half but that was the best moment of a poor Northern Ireland display, as had happened in Vaduz, we had much more of the chances. Still couldnt score any of them though, and it was a one nil win that repaired some of the Leichtenstein damage.

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It was only a couple of weeks till the Scotland game. It appeared, despite my complete and abject failure at the job, despite the humiliation of the Belarus and Leichtenstein results, that I still hadnt been sacked. Not even put under pressure. How odd. I made wholescale changes for the Scotland squad, bringing back in Manninger and Cerny after injury and binning the disgraced Mandl, Stranzl, Hiden and Flogel. A few others fell by the wayside as well. What we really needed was a goalscorer, but I just couldnt find one. Haas should have been, but wasnt. Wallner could do it at club level and was the most highly rated player we had, but In had little confidence in him which was borne out by his performances when he did play. I had tried Schriebl, Akangundz, Kristo. No one could put the ball in the net. I was resoring to the Austrian lower leagues now, and when wallner injured himself I called up Hock from Worgl who were some pub team.

Days later, we were in Glasgow. The SFA had lent us Rangers training facility for the game, which we used more to become accustomed to the windy damp weather than any real training. Austria was cold, but Scotland was cold and damp. It seeps into your bones. Saturday arrived, and we made our way to Hampden knowing we were still inexplicably thought of as favourites for the game. We knew it was going to be tougher than that, Scotland have some good young players and we just couldnt seem to perform. I considered going back to the 541, but plumped for the 442 in the end, as this is the way we have won the two games we have managed to win. Up front will be Wallner and Haas, I told them this was their last chance to impress me. Cerny comes in for the underperforming Schopp on the right in the only other change.

Line up

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Saturday 16.10.2004 15.00

Scotland v Austria

Hampden Park, Glasgow

Breezy, 12c

Att. 52940

Scotland lined up in an offensive 433, with a front 3 of McFadden, Kyle and Dobie. It was a worry that we only had a man advantage at the back and I should have gone back to the sweeper, but it was too late now. We had kicked off. And after four minutes, we were facing a penalty.

A Dobie cross had come in from the right and as Cerny was heading it away Stefan Lexa, inexplicably, held down McFadden and the russian referee saw fit to offer the hosts the penalty spot. Very generous of him it was too. The crowd hushed in anticipation as Darren Fletcher placed the ball on the spot, ran up and blasted the ball straight down the middle. Manninger had waited to react however, and he caught the ball full in the chest. Saved. Phew.

Lexa immediately tried to make amends by breaking down the right, but instead of pulling it back into the box he pulled it back 35 yards to Pogatetz the left back whose long range effort was meek.

Minutes later Cerny broke free downt he right, but the angle was too acute and he shot limply into the arms of Gallacher. Then Kyle had a shot briliiantly saved by Manninger in a crowded penalty area. It was end to end, and the Duscher Lambert battle in midfield wss heating up. 15 minutes gone and Duscher saw yellow for felling the pensioner. 17 minutes gone and Weissenberger managed to keep the ball from going out of play on the left touchline 20 yards out. He turned and whipped the cross in. Haas finally got on the end of something and redirected it into the near post, leaving Gallacher stranded. One nil. We were winning, Haas congratulated weissenberger for his contribution. How different it all felt from two games ago.

The game was far from over however, chances were coming at both ends, mostly ours in fairness however. We had our hands full at the back, and with Wallner disappointing again up front I was becoming tempted to bring on an extra man. I thought I would leave it till half time. McFaddens 30th minute free kick seriously troubled the excellent Manninger,and on 37 Fletcher rattled the left hand upright fron 15 yards. Really should bring on the extra defender now. As we withstood heavy pressure, Ehmann had to go off the field for treatment. I couldnt leave it 3 v 3 so took off Wallner and brought on Tamandl. Sweeper system again. teh bad news at half time was that Ehmann couldnt continue, and I had to bring young defensive midfielder Aufhauser on as an emergency centre back.

A nasty bout of diarhhoea caused me to stay in the changing rooms for 10 minutes after half time due to a time consuming clean up operation. When I arrived back at pitchside, the score was 2-. Haas had put us 2 up but Scotland had just pulled one back through Kyle and the atmosphere was electric.

Teh second half was excrutiating,and was probably the most open game since I started. Scotland piled on the pressure and Kyles height combined with McFaddens dribbling caused us problems. manninger was having one of his days where he is unbeatable however. The more Scotland pushed the more space they left at the back for weissenberger et al to counter into. If we had a striker who could score he would have been all over the 3 on 3s we had on them. As it was we had Haas who was clearly having mental problems with the fact that he had scored twice in one match already. In the end, it took a Scotland player to put teh ball in the net for us, Haas' woeful shot rebounding off Ritchie into the net after 80 minutes. Good job too because Gareth williams fired one in from long range on 92 to make it 3-2, but time had run out for the Scots.. Two wins on the trot. Quite remarkable,Brian.

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After three games the Dutch were unsupirsingly on top with seven points, the draw at Hampden there only failure to get maximum points so far while 5-0 and 4-0 victories over Leichtenstein and Slovakia in their last two games meant their goal difference was healthy. We were in the play off spot in second with 6 points from a possible 9, Scotland and NI our nearest competition so the victories over them were important. Time would tell if the Leichtenstein defeat would prove fatal, but from a disastrous start where Id seriously considered quitting, things were looking up.

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There was about six months till out next qualifier in April 2005, broken up only by a friendly against Portugal in February. That felt like a long time to go, in a country which, if Im brutally honest, was really starting to bore me. I had never been a club manager so didnt know what I was missing, but all the players talk was of their clubs and the social and cultural interactions they were experiencing. There didnt seem to be any of that at international level. While I had ridiculed managers who said they missed the day to day running of club management, I was starting to see what they meant. They missed the banter, the board, the fans, relegation and promotion, buying and selling. I felt like I was missing out on something. I had sounded out clubs about club management, but they had all blown me out. The truth was in eighteen months of management I had only actually managed seven competitive games, one of those involved a truly humiliating three nil defeat against Leichtenstein, and only in the last couple of months with the victories over NI and Scotland had my reputation started to gain any sort of stock. I had to decide if this is what I wanted, and try harder. Or lower my sights. Could I combine the jobs? In truth, while its not ideal, I probably could. i wasnt exactly rushed off my feet.

The next day Salzburg sacked Walter Horrman (theres a surname to be proud of). Perched precariously in 9th place one place off the relegation spot (the Austrian Bundesliga has a similar set up to the SPL in Scotland), their Chairman Rudi Quorn Burger, sorry Quehenberger, had acted swiftly to turn things around. I applied immediately, and sat back and waited for the call to interview.

The very next day, Rudi Voller was announced as the new manager of Salzburg. I didnt get a letter or a phone call or nothing. I put Salzburg on my newly formed hated clubs list. I already hated Rudi Voller so there was no need to hate him anymore, the permed moustached german schwein. Anyone else think he looks like a blow up sex doll with a 'milk' moustache?

If I couldnt get a job of an under performing obscure Austrian team when I was Austrian national team manager, what hope did I have?

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I had chosen my experimental squad for the Portugal friendly, dispensed with the 'press conference' (four very bored looking blokes asking questions they already knew the answers to) and was walking back to the rail station to catch my train for Innsbruck. The phone rang. An italian agent, on behalf of an ambitious club who were in a sticky spot, would I be interested? My heart leapt, I retreated into the quiet of the nearest cafe to speak properly.

"Yes I am interested, which club?" I asked, my mind whirred. Couldnt remember Milan or Juve sacking their managers recently so couldnt be one of them.

"I cannot say yet, you must meet with the head of the society first. In Rome, Holiday Inn Aeroporto, noon tomorrow."

"OK I can do that, I will be there"

I hailed a taxi and made my way straight to the airport. I briefly considered driving but it must be a whole days drive and quite frankly I couldnt be arsed, so I shelled out the outrageous fare and flew on the teatime Vienna to Rome Austrian Airlines shuttle. The Holiday inn was only minutes from the airport, long enough for the taxi driver to have two low speed collisions and three serious near misses but still only minutes door to door. I got a room, and waited.

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Next day at noon, the gentleman arrived with an escort and was ushered to my table in the bar, I was shocked by what I saw. I had expected an elderly gentleman with white hair and a fearsome looking forehead and gruff voice. Instead, I got a young man, cant have been too much older than myself. Well dressed in an expensive suit, he looked the entrepreuneur type, and far too young to be a football chairman.

"Ah Meester Teegee, good to meet you" he lilted in that fantastic italian accent shaking my hand. Obviously he had rehearsed this as he sat back and looked very pleased with himself.

"And me, you" I replied. "You are very"

the other man had started gibbering in italian to the chairman

"ermm"

he looked at me

"Do you mind not doing that when im speaking"

he smiled, confused,

"As I was saying", I continued "You are very young"

the man started blabbering on in italian again

"OY! I warned you do you want a slap?" I objected in disgust

He sighed "I am translating, Mr Franza does not speak the english"

"Oh" I said, realisation dawning "Very good carry on"

"You were speaking" he said, enjoying my embarassment

"Yes, of course. Tell him hes very young for a football club chairman"

Via the translator, Franza explained that he was also chairman of a Sicilian former shipping and construction group called the Franza Group, who had seen the potential for tourism in Siciliy and had branched out very successfully into Hotels. They also ran the ferries from Messina, in Sicily, to the Aeolian Islands and Salerno on the mainland. He was a football fan, and had invested in his local club, Messina, the third club in Sicily after Palermo and Catania.

This wasnt going to be Milan or Juve, I realised. Bugger.

Located in the north east of the country, he continued, Messina are bitter rivals with their southern rivals and their relegation from Serie A last year while Palermo stayed up did not sit well with the tifosi. I asked about Messinas history, and he spoke of their english foundations and the volcanic eruption of 1908 that destroyed hte city, but most of all he spoke of seasons of mediocrity and obscurity in the lower leagues of the country. 260,000 inhabitants was not a small town, however, and he spoke at length of his plans for the club. Since taking over, he had transformed the stadium (the "Giovanni Celeste") from 12000 to a 25000 all-seater structure, and was now investing in the team. He was a man with ambition, and probably with political ambitions to in the way that he spoke and seemed so keen to do something for the city. It all sounded fantastic.

"Whats the catch?" I asked

"The last coach" said Franza through the interpreter "He was not...very good. He turned Messina into a laughing stock. In Sicily, embarassment is not acceptable, we have ways of dealing with people who embarass our societies and our good names. Vincenzo Patania" the translator clasped his hands together and bowed his head "was a man who always liked the fishing in Messina harbour. Such a tragedy, and yet such a beautiful irony."

I gulped.

"So what do you want me to do?" I ask

"We have seen from your performances in Austria that you can get a result when it seems unlikely, and you like a challenge,and you like to keep your team from conceding. We dont like conceding goals. Well Messina are now bottom of Serie B, seven points away from the safety region. Last year we were in Serie A. This is not pleasing for Mr Franza. You will save us from relegation. If you do, you will be rewarded. If you do not. Do you like fishing?"

"Umm." I said. Dangerous, and yet compelling. I do like a challenge. "How many games left?" I ask

"Plenty, 16."

"I accept"

By the end of the week I had moved into one of Franzas hotels, the Royal Palace Messina, right in the centre of Messina. Next morning, my first training session.

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I arrived at the surprisingly good training facility on the outskirts of town, the volcanic mountains providing a spectacular backdrop even by Austrian standards. Everywhere I went there was mountains. I made my way out onto the training pitch to introduce myself. Upon introducing myself, I stumbled on my first problem. None of them speak English. Not one. Luckily, the translator from the other day was present, and he did the honours for me, and would continue to do so until I picked up italian. He was called Luca. Once the formalities were over, all I could do was tell my assistant, Carmine Picone, to do what theyd usually do for training and I would watch. Half an hour later, my chin had hit the floor. I couldnt believe what I was seeing. No wonder they were bottom of the league. Players ambling around in a poorly organised kick about that would be more suited to a local park with cans of cider, some were having a chat by the goalposts. One had already decided he had had enough and was making his way to the changing rooms. The atmosphere was terrible. Picone looked like he couldnt be bothered, when he eventually decided to do something and shouted at the retreating player, he was met by a one fingered answer. No respect was here.

I walked over to Picone, Luca in two.

"You are fired" I told him, via Luca

"You cannot fire me, I have a contract" he replied

"Whatever you want to cancel the contract, you have it. Dont come back here"

He looked disgusted, and walked away. Next morning, he was brought up in the nets of a fishing boat outside of Messina harbour.

The player that was off home, was called back. He trudged back, and looked at me unimpressed.

"Name?" I asked

"Cucinotta" he had understood that

"Harry Verderchi" I said.

He understood that too. Transfer listed. I added the aging Ametrano to the list soon after.

Training was revamped, the remaining coaches were given instructions. After the dismissal of Picone, they appeared motivated and respectful if not entirely competent. They would be moved on in time. I weighed up my squad. It was february, the transfer window wouldnt open again until July, so I was very much stuck with what I had. Which wasnt much. And the decent players had had enough of the seasons struggles already and had the hump, morale in general was very poor. To add insult to injury, my first game would be away to Piacenza, 2nd in the table and virtually unbeatable at home.

To the Leonardo Garilli then, we flew from Palermo to Bologna and finished our journey by coach, staying overnight for the saturday evening game that would be broadcast live on TV. The atmosphere was still subdued and depressed, the lack of motivational skills amongst my coaching team was a worry. Having only seen one days training, team selection was tricky but I had already decided to go 541 as we were away to a top of the table team, and 32 goals conceded by Messina in 13 away games told a very strong story. Mental toughness was the problem that would have to be addressed. First of all, a few 0-0 away results wouldnt go amiss. At the bottom the table is:

(Safe) Pisa 24pts

® Triestina 24

® Avellino 23

® Livorno 22

® Messina 17

So there was work to be done. As I considered my options team wise, it dawned on me that there was another problem. They are really crap. Seriously, they are almost all complete and utter rubbish. I yearned for some of my austrian lads. Once again, I was in trouble. Eventually I plumped for this team:

Line up

but mostly by default. The only decent players here look to be the keeper Storari and the left winder Silvestri. Hardly any of them had played more than a couple of games at higher than Serie B level.

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Saturday 19.2.2005 20.30

Leonardo Garilli, Piacenza

Piacenza (2nd) v Messina (24th)

It was a cold dark fenruary night. Piacenzas ground is your typical italian municipal bowl with covers over the side tribunes and open curvas at each end, plus the running track which seems to dissipate any atmosphere generated by the crowd. Piacenza lined up 433 against us and included loanees Boriello from Milan and Pasquale from Inter. It was an untidy and scrappy start to the game, with Piacenza looking dangerous and us looking...inept. On eleven minutes, Silvestri wormed his way free of the right back and found space to cross, he knocked it into the danger area and Vendrame our right winger had lost pasquale BANG he knocked it back into the near post and we were one nil up. "YYYYYYEEEEEESSSSSSSS" I roared. I couldnt believe it. I also couldnt belive it would last, so settled back down and waited for the seige to begin. It did, Boriello firing one into the side netting and causing us all sorts of problems. On 25 minutes, Fusco finally gave up trying to mark him and left him free in the box. A schoolboy error. Boriello was found and had notched before I had time to open my mouth and point it out. 1-1.To make matters worse, Silvestri collided with Piacenzas Cristante moments later and our star man was crocked. Right footed Ametrano comes on at left back and Parisi moves up to the wing.

The second half continued much like the first, Piacenza trying time and again to break us down but much to my surprise and delight we held firm. Co-owned with Juventus young right back Lavecchia got MotM. A 1-1 draw, away to second placed Piacenza, was a fine result.

Serie B Bottom:

(safe) Reggina 27

® Pisa 24

® Avellino 23

® Livorno 22

® Messina 18

Disappointingly, however,.we were now 9 points from safety.

http://www.mondomessina.it

Sunday 20th Fenruary 2004

Speaking exclusively to http://www.mondomessina.it, your official FC Messina site, new manager C.Tiggy today wasted no time laying down the law to his relegation threatened players. Despite one of the most steely performances of the season drawing 1-1 at Piacenza, Tiggy proclaimed that Luca Fusco's performance in the game was 'unacceptable, one of the most lethargic performances I have ever witnessed'. Tiggy had spoken of Fusco as captain material in the lead up to the match, it would appear his opinion of the centre back has been quickly changed. Our messageboard has been inundated with users agreeing with Tiggy, many tifosi would appear to be tired of watching the sorts of performances week in week out that Tiggy has only seen once. How Fusco will react to this personal attack has yet to be seen, but it certainly sends out a message to the rest of the squad - Tiggy means business.

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Cheers argydwng, if that is your real name icon_wink.gif The bigest lost cause so far has been me, my managerial ineptitude is reaching new heights with this story. Wish I hadnt started writing it now people will point and laugh at me icon_biggrin.gif

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Monday morning training was subdued, but this was fine as I wanted to instill some discipline. That was until 10.30, when Carmine Picone turned up in his tracksuit. The dead assistant manager walked over to the shooting practice without looking at anyone and started barking orders. A little startled to see the ghost of someone picked out of the sea days earlier, I wandered over with Luca and tentatively enquired as to what he was doing here.

“I return to work. Franza does not pay up my contract, so I must work to be paid†he told me through Luca

“I don’t want you here†I told him “Anyway your deadâ€

“Do I look like I am dead?†he retorted “I get out of the hospital this morning. I work, or I sueâ€

I wandered away and got Luca to phone Franza. After a brief discussion, Luca said “Franza says he is too expensive to sack. But things are…being dealt with. You are to humour him while he is hereâ€

“I hope so†I replied, “Ive got two new assistant coaches coming this week as it isâ€

Early the next morning. Workers at one of Franzas construction sites found Picone buried face down in quick drying cement.

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Next up, we were to play Ascoli, on the following wednesday. From Ascoli Piceno on the eatern coast of the middle region of the peninsula, spent many years in Serie A but have found recent times harder and have just emerged from a spell in Serie C1. The Cino e Lillo del Duca had experienced big changes in the last couple of years similar to our ground, it had gone from a hotchpotch of stands and large double deck standing curvas to 28000 all seater status. It retained the athletics track and associated javelin runway etc. Ascoli will include the 36 year old Ravanelli in their squad to bring to Messina, and anyone who has read A Season with Verona will recognise the name of Martino Melis on the Ascoli teamsheet. The only change for us was to bring in Iranian Rezaei for the suspended and sulking Fusco at the back.

Wed 19th Feb 2005

Cino e Lillo del Duca, Ascoli Piceno

Ascoli (14) v Messina (22)

Att 8945

from www.channel4.com/footballitalia

Ascoli condemned Messina to their 20th league defeat tonight in a game they dominated from start to finish. New Messina manager C.Tiggys defensive style looked to be working until the 62nd minute when Fontana curled a delicious free kick into the near post. Ten minutes later Melis' cross was knocked down by Di Domenico for La Vista to smack home and say Hasta La Vista to Messina. Sorry Messina could only muster 3 shots all game, none of which were on target. Tiggy certainly has his work cut out.

2-0 L

In the week,I made my first two desperate signings. The transfer window was closed but I found I could still get out of contract players, so I signed up Choi-Jin Sul the 33 year old Korean centre back to add some much needed ability at the back and Leon Clarke the young former Wolves forward to hopefully add some spark up front. Next up were Bari at home, the southerners bring an 8-4-2 record to the Giovanni Celeste and include Osmanovski and Saudati in attack. Tony Vidmar would miss out suspended.

I put Clark and Choi straight into our line up, the mark of a desperate man.

Friday morning training, and who turned up but the now twice dead Carmine Picone, fresh from hospital again and still with some cement stuck stubbornly to his bald pate. Odd. I must say he was certainly dedicated, and brave. Or greedy. Whatever it was, he was now warming up the lads in anticipation of some sprinting practice and ignoring the incredulous stares that followed him everywhere. This was getting silly, and I told him to give up and go home, but he seemed to be enjoying himself now and anyone who told him otherwise was met with a “It will take more than that to get rid of Carmine Picone!†followed by a bond villain laugh.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Sat 26 Feb 2005 20.30

Giovanni Celeste, Messina

Messina (22) 0 v 0 Bari (5)

Att 14301

from www.channel4.com/footballitalia

Messina got a 0-0 draw in the Giovanni Celeste tonight...and could have won against promotion chasing Bari. The red and yellows, who gave debuts to Leon Clarke and Choi-Jin Sul, had the better of the chances but failed to take advantage with some poor finishing. The veteran Chio-jin Sul impressed at the back on his debut, and was a canny move by tiggy to swell the Messina coffers with increased Korean exposure. However, if Messina are to stay up this year they are going to need to find a target man who can make the ball stick, and the loss in the second half of midfield stalwart Carmine Coppola for a month with fractured ribs may cost them dear as the pressure rises.

<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

(Safe) Reggiana 28

® Avellino 26

® Livorno 25

® Pisa 24

® Messina 19

Still 9 points back. I guess 2 points from a possible 9 doesnt sound too good but considering the tools at my disposal (and they certainly are tools), and the opposition, I was reasonably happy. A few 3 point results were going to be needed though and quickly. I didnt see Franza much, he was busy with his business and as there was very little transfer activity there wasn’t much need for us to speak. I had brought more coaches in to try to improve the players we had but there was little else I could do but keep plugging away and hoping for the best. Life in Messina was good, you had to tiptoe around a bit in case you annoyed someone important but the climate and town were great, and the hotel fantastic. I could get used to this. What I was sure of however, was that if I was unable to perform miracles and keep Messina up, I ma!y well die here and much sooner than I had planned.

On Sunday afternoon, an ambulance was called to one of Messina’s many Piazzas. A horrific accident had seen Carmine Picone, enjoying his Sunday Passeggio, struck on the head by an anvil falling from the scaffolding of a building under repair overhead. The irony of the incident was that the building and the builders were employees of the Franza Group. How odd.

This weekend we were off to Ternana. A team that flirted with the top flight in the mid 70's and are located between Rome and Perugia in the centre of the country, this time we sailed to the mainland and coached up the day before much to my disgust. It was a knackering journey. Artico, Rezaei and Storari are all fed up the teams struggles and rather try to do something about it on the pitch they have all decided to moan and gripe at every possible opportunity. Storari is a particular problem because he is well respected in the camp and his attitude might spread. As I looked through the Ternana team sheet at the teams municipal 20000 concrete bowl, one name on it filled me with immediate dread.

Mario Frick. The same Mario Frick who had scored three times to inflict one of the most embarassing results in international football history on me only months earlier

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Sat 5th March 2005 20.30

Libero Liberati, Terni

Ternana (10) 5 v 0 Messina (22)

Att 7163

www.channel4.com/footballitalia

Sorry Messina look all but relegated after going down 5-0 to rampant Ternana in Terni this evening. Salvatore Bruno caused the major damage with a ferocious brace of headers, while Frara, man of the match defensive midfielder Giordano and Borgobello also took full advantage of Messina’s defensive frailties. Young Englishman Leon Clarke had a dismal game, but he wasn’t the only one and manager C.Tiggy afterwards singled out the players at fault for Messina’s current position. "With players like Clarke, Zoro and Vendrame playing at their best we have a chance. When they play like they did tonight, they are a disgrace to the shirt. They shouldnt be paid." the livid englishman announced. It would appear that he has been unable to turn round the Sicilians fortunes since taking over four games ago. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

At least Frick hadnt scored, but his curse upon me continued with this crushing defeat. Zoro took the criticism well, and riposted with an announcement that he would try harder. Clarke didnt take it so well and got the major hump. With 12 games left, we were still 9 points from safety. Onwards and upwards, at the weekend we welcomed Torino to the island and we just had to get on with it.

Carmine Picone turned up on Thursday from his third death. His formerly bullet shaped bald head was now almost completely flat on top where the anvil had landed on and rearranged his skull, and he kept falling over, but he was in good spirits all the same.

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The time for draws was past. Two points from 12 wasn’t good enough even if we had only had one game at home. 4132 and an attacking formation was all I really had left, although it is not a formation I like to use.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Sat 12.3.2005 20.30

Giovanni Celeste, Messina

Messina (22) 0 v 1 Torino (7)

www.channel4.com/footballitalia

Despite a brighter performance, Messina’s sorry season continued. 5-0 losers last week, they went down to a Marco Ferrante goal on 62. Young Daniel Ancione made things harder for the Messinians with a 66th minute sending off, while Leon Clarke’s reaction to criticism last week was to sulk. Hauled off after 60 minutes, it would appear Clarke’s Italian adventure is over. The news could hardly get any worse for the suffering Messina tifosi, but star right back Laveggia was injured in a challenge with Blazaretti and will miss the rest of the season. Booed off at full time, things look grim at the Giovanni Celeste. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Wed 16.3.2005 20.30

Romeo Menti, Vicenza

Vicenza (3) 3 v 0 Messina (22)

Messina’s new attacking mentality led them to yet another crushing away day. Goretti opened the scoring for Serie A hopefuls Vicenza on 15 minutes and was quickly followed by Eddy Baggio's header. A second half strike for Rantier completed Vicenza’s dominance, and it could have been more. Messina go 13 points from safety now and it is all but mathematically over for them. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

A tragic incident occurred on our way back from Vicenza. After the game the accident prone Carmine Picone had somehow managed to get himself entwined in a tow rope attached to the back of the team coach and had been unable to extricate himself before the unaware coach driver had set off for the 2 hour trip to Rome airport, mostly due to coincidentally and unluckily being unconscious at the time after being knocked on the head by person or persons unknown. He had soon woken up as the coach reached 55 km/h. Police stopped the coach and brought the hanger on to the drivers attention 10 miles short of Rome, but by the time the ambulance arrived he was proclaimed dead by the paramedic. Shocking.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Sat 19th March 2005 20.30

Giovanni Celeste

Messina (22) 1 v 2 Empoli (8)

Booed off at half time and whistled for lengthy intervals after conceding an early Francesco Lodi goal after more comedy Messina marking, Messina at last showed some fight to equalise through substitute Mamede in the second half. Empoli had failed to pick up the run of the attacking midfielder and he made no mistake. Messina cant buy a win at the moment, and Empoli cruelly broke Sicilian hearts as Bonetto crashed in a 92nd minute free kick, the offence for which had seen debutante right back Aronica sent off. For the Messina faithful, it was too much to bear and the players had to run from the pitch under an onslaught of thrown seats and rioting fans.

<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Sat 26th March 2005 20.30

Giovanni Celeste

Messina (22) 3 v 0 Pisa (21)

In the basement battle at the Giovanni Celeste, Messina’s Tuscan visitors were toppled 3-0 in Messina’s first win for over two months. It wasn’t clear whether the performance was down to an improvement in the hosts or a poor performance from the visitors, but the star of the show was 20 year old forward Tindaro Calabrese who finally fulfilled some of his potential with a 5 star performance capped off with a cheeky goal after a defensive mix up. Gentile scored the first after Pisa failed to pick up his run from central midfield after Spitali had opened the scoring rounding his marker and placing into the far corner. Other results went against the Sicilians however and so the win fails to lift then off the bottom. They lie 14 points from safety and 6 points from 21st with 8 games remaining.

<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Monday training. I arrived late to find Carmine Picone taking the crossing drills. His skin was still black with scabs and burns from the coach incident, but he was as bullish as ever despite being pronounced dead days earlier. Apparently he had been resuscitated in a Rome hospital and after a couple of days recuperation had hitched back to Messina. Un-be-lievable, this man laughed in the face of death.

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It was a great morale boost to finally get a victory under our (my) belts, especially against another team down there in the mix, but the gap was now so massive that it was simply unthinkable that we would stay up. I became concerned about what might happen to me when the inevitable happened and we were relegated. I had seen what Picone was going through and how the former manager had been, err disposed of. Although looking at the squad he left me with Im rather inclined to think he deserved worse. I arranged a meeting with Franza, and I explained the situation. I told him I would keep trying, but that it was almost impossible for us to stay up, and that in my opinion the quality of the players meant they probably deserved to go down. In fact it might even be good for the club, because it needed a clear out and a new beginning. !I explained that I hadn’t been able to invest in players because Id missed the transfer window.

Expecting to be told that I was sacked/going to be bumped off in some tired stereotypical Sicilian mafia type way, I was surprised when Franza smiled. “Meester†he said “Do not worry.†He had been taking English lessons it would appear †We will see what ‘appens at the end of the season. I understand you do all you can for the club, I trust you like a brother. If we fail, then we decide what to do with youâ€

Ulp.

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That week there was a break in the Serie B calender for the international games. No break for me however as I flew back to Austria (remember them?) for the games against Slovakia in the Ernst Happel and the return to the Amsterdam Arena in midweek. I had picked my squad as per usual, the fact I was now located in Sicily didnt make a lot of difference because quite frankly there werent a lot of players to scout in Austria. Vienna was a welcome relief from the pressure and failures of Messina, and the better quality of player in the Austrian National side was also easier to work with. My reputation was losing stock in Messina so a couple of decent results back with Austria would do my career no harm. We were sat in second in the group and were aiming to consolidate that position.

We were at home to Slovakia who had only managed one point so far, so I didnt see any point in holding back with the 541. I played the 4132 that had got mixed results in messina but at least offered an attacking edge. Briza came in for the injured Pogatetz and Lexa just got his place back from the promising Ivanitisch in central midfield. Cerny would play on the right as Schopp seemed to be going through a run of poor form which I think is mental. Haas and the strong Radovic would be the front line.

Line Up

Slovakia lined up 442 and included Gresko in their starting line up, and one of the stars of the Austrian Bundesliga in Janocko.

Sat 2.5.2002 15.00

Ernst Happel Stadium

Austria v Slovakia

Dry, 9c

Att 55513

The decision to bring in Cerny and Lexa paid off as early as the 12th minute. Radovic fed Cerny in down the right, and he fouin turn found the advancing Lexa with a neat lay off. Simko in the Slovak goal could only deflect the ball on its path in. One nilup already. It only lasted four minutes however as Janocko's corner was thumped home by Gresko before anyone had time to react.1-1 and the Slovaks were celebrating in front of the handful of fans who had made their way up from Bratislava.

Ten minutes later and we were back in front. Another corner, Lexa whipped it into the near post and Duscher met it with the faintest of touches to divert it goalwards for his first goal in the white of Austria. The Slovak on the line couldnt get there. 2-1 and a pulsating game. The Slovaks were susceptible to the near post corner and we repeated the trick a few minutes later to make it 3-1, this time Radovic converting another excellent Lexa cross.

The second half saw many more chances but no goals until the dying minutes when Ivanschitz, on as a sub, belted a sublinme volley into the top corner from a Schopp (also on as a sub) knock down. 4-1. The final whistle went, and I celebrated my second victory of the week. Finally, a small crumb of success in a whole lardy cake of failure.

The other results came in over the radio as we changed and warmed down. Holland had won 4-1 at home to Northern Ireland and Scotland had won 4-0 in Vaduz, so no one was doing us any favours. Next up, in five days, the return to the Amsterdam Arena.

As I drank my morning coffee in a Vienna bar before setting out for the lowlands, I read the imported Telegraph sports news with increasing amazement. “Messina Assistant found dead in restaurantâ€. Apparently Picone had been dining at one of Franzas hotels the night before and must have eaten something that took a dislike to him as he was found hours later slumped over the toilet in the toilet hugging position infamous among teenage drinkers. It sounded like a horrible, painful, end to a man we all knew well. Even if we didn’t like him, it was still a nasty way to go.

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So it was that five days later I stood once again in the away dugout in Amsterdam. Our preparations were identical to last time, but this time we carried with us more confidence. Off the back of three straight wins and knowing we could match the Dutch over 90 minutes, we were optimistic of avoiding defeat. The only change to my Slovakia line up was the introduction of left back Katzer in at right back, Wimmer had got a knock against Slovakia and was fit enough to take his place on the bench but no more. I was going to be brave, the 4132 had seemed to suit the lads in the last game and I wanted to see how it worked against sterner opposition.

The Holland line up included Stam and Davids, missing last time we met, but their 352 formation had a surprising front line of Robben and Kluivert. Van Nistelrooy had to make do with a place on the bench.

Wed 6.5.2005 19.45

AmsterdamArenA

Holland v Austria

Dry 8c

Att

We started brightly, carving out a couple of chances from our numbers advantage on the wings. After 26 minutes we looked the better team, but against the run of play Holland scored. Robben found some space on Ehmann and somehow slotted home from way out wide. I was confident we could score past the dutch but the ease with which they opened the scoring was a concern. My optimism proved right five minutes later as Weissenberger cut inside and caused havoc in the dutch box. A last gasp tackle from Bouma knocked the ball free but Haas was there and he slammed one in off the crossbar past van der Sar. Bloody hell it was like watching a different team this. From the turgid patheticness of the defeat in Leichtenstein to tearing the dutch defence apart in Amsterdam. Odd.

We could have gone 2-1 up before the break as Cerny found himself with only van der sar to beat but his shot went high and not very handsome. Then Kluivert got free at the other end. He stung Manningers palms with a shot from an acute angle before the ball fell for Robben on the rebound and it was us who were 2-1 down. We just had no answer to the Dutch's attacking ability. A minute after half time and it was 3-1, Heiblinger going walkabout and leaving Kluivert half the pitch to wander into and beat Manninger at the near post. We were never going to recover from that, the only real incident was Radovic throwing his toys out the pram when I took him off with ten minutes left. Threw his shirt at me before stomping off down the tunnel screaming something in German.

Scotland won 3-1 at home to Northern Ireland and Slovakia beat Leichtenstein 3-1 in Bratislava in the nights other games, so now everyone had played everyone the table looked like this:

Table

We had lost the second placed play off spot and were down to third, but we had got the worst out of the way with the away legs against Holland and Scotland so there was still plenty of hope there. The Leichtenstein defeat could yet prove fatal. I returned to Sicily disappointed, but not downbeat.

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