One defender runs to close me down from the right hand side. I turn so I collect the ball with my back to goal and shift it to my left side as I spin.
Without looking where the goal is, I instinctively strike the ball with my left foot, mustering all the power my short backlift would allow.
The ball skims across the turf like a smooth stone hurled across a lifeless pond. The goalkeeper looks on behind him as he watches the ball career off the inside of the right post and into the net.
I turn and wheel away in celebration, running down the pitch and lifting my shirt above my head through sheer jubilation. My teammates beam with congratulations. We were back in the game. Only a four goal deficit now…
Everything about this fiercely contested match on a hot, sweaty March night on Vietnam’s coast was actually quite typically England-ish.
Before our match against a team made up of locals from nearby Mui Ne, Vietnam, our team (which consisted of four Englishmen) was full of unbridled enthusiasm. The expectation that our technical qualities from the home of football would be too much for our underdog opponents.
In familiar style, that proved to not be the case whatsoever.
The plan was to play a possession game for most of the match. If we found ourselves tiring towards the end, we would consider the switch to route one football – launching the ball up to lone front man.
After 10 minutes and a devastating flurry of goals and running from the locals, the call went out: “Route one, boys. Route one.”
The old adage of English players made to look good by foreign counterparts held up, as my hat-trick of goals were all assisted by Vietnamese teammates.
After the game the talk about the humidity came into play (sound familiar?). We just simply weren’t used to the conditions, despite having two weeks in the Asian country to acclimatise.
Also the absence of away support counted against us, with at least 10 locals cheering on the home side. WAGS were not present – not shunned a la Capello style, but merely disinterested. Perhaps they could sense their support would be wasted.
But as ever with English football players (professional or ridiculously amateur) we didn’t go down without a fight.
Even with our opposition toying with us, our team kept up the effort to attack and try to get us back into the game. It was never going to happen but it was closer than a humiliating thrashing (it was certainly no Germany-Brazil).
Goals came from three of our English contingent, including myself, while our fourth member provided heroics in goal. Stopping the score line from ascending into rugby territory.
An attempt to invoke the playground rule of “next goal wins” didn’t quite translate. Frustratingly so, as we were the team to clinch the “golden goal”.
But in the end we left the field with due respect from our opponents. We had harried them, attacked them, shown a bit of the English football quality that more often than not comes down to a hefty “50/50” shoulder barge.
Indeed, even an old fashioned crunching slide tackle from yours truly earned an appreciative applause from the home crowd. (In modest terms, I’ll describe it as Ledley King-esque.)
Our goal count meant we were not totally embarrassed coming away from the match, and we could convince ourselves if we *really* stretched our minds that we were in fact quite close to getting something from the game.
Three lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming…