Football Manager 2020 ‘The Pilgrimage’ #14 – Lads on Tour (Minto and Holloway go to the Qatari World Cup)

In a FIFA-imposed break from our maiden Premier League season, we (very strangely) visit the ‘great’ nation of Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup that in no way has been one of the biggest human rights tragedies ever. Nope. Definitely not. While mainstream British media have decided to stay at home and cover the World Cup matches from the UK, a plucky and idiotic duo have made their own pilgrimage to Doha to follow the action as it happens. This couldn’t possibly go wrong… If you wanted to (ironically) boycott this edition and catch up on the latest Premier League action for Plymouth Argyle, you can find it here.

“Ere, Scotty! The bleddy gate for Hamad airport is this way you muppet! What are you wearing that stupid hat for anyway?” The far-from-dulcet tones of Ian Holloway rang out across the Gatwick departure lounge, which was oddly quieter than most times a World Cup was about to start. ‘Ollie’- who was in no position to criticise his broadcast colleague’s fashion choices – wore a garish Hawaiian shirt, a pair of baggy khaki cargo shorts and the sort of sandals your dad would wear. The look was topped off with a cork hat on the Bristolian’s head; a clear indication of Mr Holloway’s understanding of the Qatari climate mid-November.

“F*ck off mate, as soon as that footage of that pirate broadcast we did for the playoff final went viral, I’ve taken the nickname ‘Scotty 2 Hotty’ to heart and it’s now part of the ‘Mento Minto’ brand!” The easiest way to describe Scott Minto’s look was as if he had been cryogenically frozen from a tag match with Too Cool and Rikishi back in 1999. Three-quarter length shorts adorned Minto’s pale legs, while a black vest top layered with a garish flame shirt covered his top half. On Scott’s face were a pair of bright yellow-rimmed sunglasses (the kind you might see in a video from The Offspring) and the headgear topped it off: where would normally be a standard so-bad-it’s-good bucket hat, instead was a bucket hat with the top cut off, and Scott’s hastily bleached-blonde hair (gelled within an inch of its life) stuck through the hole. It was a look, that’s for sure.

“I’ve never heard so much sh*te in all my life! C’mon bhey, we need to get a move on or we might miss the Italy vs Qatar match!”

The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar

Before we look to the first match that Minto and Holloway would be covering, let’s take a look at the countries that would be going to the finals and the groups that they were put in.

Group A

We start off with the hosts who would be attending their first World Cup and were handed a fairly nice group alongside Guinea (who were also making their World Cup debut), the USA and faced their main threat from four-time winners Italy in Group A.

Minto and Holloway predict: Italy and USA to qualify for the next round.

Group B

Wales are another team making their World Cup debut in 2022 and face a difficult challenge in perennial golden boys Belgium, as well as the often underrated Morocco and the growing football nation of China.

Minto and Holloway predict: Belgium and Wales to qualify for the next round.

Group C

Current World Cup title-holders France face off against the only member of CONMEBOL never to reach a finals in the country of Venezuela. South Korea will continue to show their prowess in their 11th finals, while Mexico always have the talent to go far. Expect a tight group.

Minto and Holloway predict: France and Mexico to qualify for the next round.

Group D

Is it finally the year that football comes home? 2018 semi-finalists England face a fairly kind group with their main threat coming from the team who have found their way to the final the most without ever winning one in Holland. Cameroon have some talented players to make a good go of it, however the Aussies don’t stand too much of a chance of picking up many wins.

Minto and Holloway predict: Holland and England to qualify for the next round.

Group E

I’d like to think that Spain may have rustled a couple of extra Rials to give to the organisers of the tournament as they have one of the easier group stages: their strongest opponents come in Turkey and Colombia, while Nigeria shouldn’t upset the apple cart too much.

Minto and Holloway predict: Spain and Colombia to qualify for the next round.

Group F

Our vice captain Josh Grant’s Reggae Boys face a difficult group against a German team that always seem to go far in the tournament; a Uruguay side that are famed for their aggression and determination; and a Serbian squad full of fledgling wonderkids. I would not be surprised if Granty was on the first flight home after just two out of the three group stage matches.

Minto and Holloway predict: Germany and Uruguay to qualify for the next round.

Group G

Iran and Romania lucked out during this side of the draw: Brazil are the most successful country to play at the World Cup with 5 wins to their name, while Portugal are the current (IRL) holders of the European Championship and could go far, despite not having the famous CR7 to marshall them to victory.

Minto and Holloway predict: Brazil and Portugal to qualify for the next round.

Group H

World Cup debutantes Mali face a difficult challenge in the form of Argentina in what could be Lionel Messi’s final World Cup, while Iraq look to better their 0 points won at their only other finals against the might of 2018 runners-up Croatia.

Minto and Holloway predict: Argentina and Croatia to qualify for the next round.

The Opening Match: Italy vs Qatar

“Thank you for joining all of us at ScottSports for the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted here in the great nation of Qatar! Ollie, what did you think of the opening ceremony?”

“Well, mate, I ain’t seen nothing like that before, I tell you.” Holloway began. “Probably the biggest fireworks display I ever seen; we had the new world record for the most amount of gymnasts wearing thawbs in one place at any time; and who could have predicted that what’s she called…Greta…erm…Funberg – that’s it – would stage a protest with Extinction Rebellion ‘ere? Honestly, bhuy, if the football is anything like the drama we’ve had so far, we are in for a bleddy treat.”

Minto adjusted his open-topped bucket hat before adding, “It certainly was something, I’ll agree with that. Although I must say, I would have thought you would have been more of a critic of our hosts’ policy regarding drinking alcohol in public places like we find ourselves today?”

Ian Holloway’s face, already tomato-red from the heat of the midday sun, suddenly went a lighter shade of pale. “You what? We can’t have any bevs? They never told me that when they was scanning my extra suitcase full of Strongbow at Doha airport? For f*cks sake!” Ollie threw his microphone off, stormed off the hastily built studio set and was not to be seen for the rest of the match.

“Right…well…the show much go on, I guess! Sit back, relax and enjoy the footballing pleasures that watching Italy pummel Qatar will provide. Oh – and Christina – please tell the kids I still love them.”

No surprises were had on the opening day

As predicted, the hosts failed to pick up a win against Italy during the opening match and the most exciting match of the day was a 4-2 cracker of a win for Wales against China. Next, let’s flash forward a bit and see how the Three Lions did during the group stages.

England would qualify first in their group after Jadon Sancho scored the only goal in their win against the Socceroos, followed by a bore-draw against the main threats in Holland and then finally a 4-1 win against Cameroon where captain Harry Kane would find the net twice, along with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Marcus Rashford. Let’s see if Josh Grant’s Jamaica were able to do the same…

As Josh Grant was the only Argyle player to go to the finals, we paid special attention to how Jamaica did. As well as picking up creditable draws against Serbia and Uruguay, a Daniel Johnson goal inspired a memorable win against Germany that would mean that the Reggae Boys had qualified for the next round! There were shocks all around, as hosts Qatar miraculously qualified for the second round, while two teams predicted to go far – Spain and Croatia – would finish bottom and 3rd in their groups respectively.

The Second Round

The second round threw up some tasty ties, with hosts Qatar finally going out against Belgium and the title-holders France continuing their reign of terror against a plucky yet unsuccessful Cameroon side. Jamaica continued to overachieve as they beat Colombia on penalties, while the tie of the round had to be the derby between Argentina and Brazil, in which Argentina won 2-1 in extra time. Compared to their Jamaican counterparts, England and Portugal completely underachieved, with South Korea and Mali respectively beating both sides that would have been expected to go further than they did. (It is unsurprising that Southgate announced he was going to leave at the end of the tournament.) Germany were the final team to qualify for the quarter finals – and apart from France vs Belgium – there was a chance for an underdog to go through in each tie.

The Quarter-Finals

The dream run would finally end for Josh Grant’s Jamaica: a comprehensive 3-0 loss would send them out of the competition, but they could certainly leave with their heads held high. The holders would scrape a penalty win against rivals Belgium, while Italy and Germany would beat the underdogs to go through to the semi-finals. (The latter would only just achieve this, after a very dull game against the overachieving Mali).

The Semi-Finals

No surprises here – Germany win on penalties. Nadiem Amiri – a German midfielder who had only just joined Bayern Munich from Leverkusen for a huge £57m at the start of the season – found the back of the net in the 86th minute to send Italy on the first flight back home from Doha. The holders would also break the hearts of Lionel Messi fans the world over as the Argentine wizard would leave his last World Cup finals without another trophy to show for it. Kylian Mbappé fired past Gerónimo Rulli in the 36th minute and an impotent Argentina wouldn’t find a reply.

The Final

“Good afternoon to those of you watching at home – I’m ‘Scotty 2 Hotty’, ‘Mento Minto’ and…seemingly the only member of the ScottSports team that hasn’t been detained here in Doha, Scott Minto. You may be looking for an explanation why my broadcast partner, Ian Holloway, is absent from today’s match coverage. I’m afraid I can’t explain; although we wish Ollie all the best and hope that the Qatari authorities decide to see that he accepts the errors of his ways. Anyway – let’s get down to the match – two giants of world football face off today as the cold and calculated tournament specialists Germany try and defeat the reigning World Cup winners, France.”

A very even and edgy first half finished with an Antoine Griezmann goal at the death, with Ousmane Dembélé providing the vital cross just before half time. Not long after the second half started, Germany made a couple of changes: Jonas Hector and Julian Draxler came on for Gian-Luca Itter and Julian Brandt. France were forced into their own changes as goalscorer Griezmann picked up an injury in the 53rd minute, where Moussa Dembélé would come on as a very capable replacement. Samuel Umtiti would shortly after come on for Corentin Tolisso to shore up the midfield.

It was France who would strike next (again). Ter Stegen took a poor goal kick that fell straight into the feet of Anthony Martial, who picked up the ball on the half way line and dribbled all the way into the penalty box before knocking the ball coolly past the red-faced German ‘keeper. However, it wasn’t long before Germany replied when a pinpoint Toni Kroos corner found the head of Kai Havertz who directed it past Alphonse Areola into the top-left corner of the goal. Game on!

Both countries made one more change to replace some disappointing performances from usually reliable players: France subbed Benjamin Pavard off for Kurt Zouma and Joshua Kimmich would be exchanged for Lukas Klostermann for Germany at right-back. The final action of the match would come when a period of sustained pressure from Les Bleus ended up in another assist for Ousmane Dembélé who pulled back a ball in the opposition penalty box to leave substitute Umtiti with the chance to bury it past Ter Stegen (which he certainly took).

France had done it – Les Bleus became the 2022 FIFA World Cup winners and retained their title from the previous 2018 World Cup!

Well, there we have it. Another World Cup full of twists and turns and – most notably – the first World Cup to ever be held in November and December. It was an experience, so to say. If you chose not to boycott this post, thank you for your time. Next time, we return back to normality when the Premier League restarts for Plymouth Argyle. As they say in Doha, شكرا وليلة جيدة!

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