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The Rhinoceros Never Dances With The Monkey

FK Partizan / Côte d’Ivoire – 2037/38 Open Thread

Portugal 2037 – Club World Cup Review.

Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to compete in the revamped Club World Cup. It isn’t something that’s likely to happen often, given that I am required to resign once we win the Champions League…so I got really excited for this.

And then the tournament happened. Ugh.

Jean-Ralphio agrees. The revamped Club World Cup is the worst.

It’s like the entire tournament is set up for a bunch of European clubs to frolic at the expense of others.

My favorite moment? When Corinthians advanced ahead of Panathiniakos from Group F. Not because of any particular love for Corinthians…or dislike for Panathinaikos. I just had no interest in playing the same ****ing European teams in a meaningless tournament.

I couldn’t wait for the tournament to be over. We had solid wins over Flamengo, Mamelodi Sundowns, Murat Musaev’s Monaco and Albert Celades’ Wolves (in the third-place match), losing only to urCristiano’s Juventus.

Julian Nagelsmann’s Gladbach claimed the title, beating Juventus 2-nil.

And, if you’ll excuse me, I’d now like to forget this tournament ever happened.

Mali 2037 – Africa Cup of Nations Review.

The Cup of Nations was running simultaneously, so my attentions were very much divided.

In the end, we were the dominant force. We won our Group with 17 goals for, none against. In fact, we held a cleansheet through to the semifinals, where tired legs began to catch up with us.

I didn’t rotate my squad as much as I should have, so we were pretty beat for the Final against Tunisia. We ran out to a 6-nil lead, however, before the tired legs caught up to us…at which point Panathinaikos legend Aymen Mejri (remember him?) went on a one-man rampage, scoring 4 goals in 20 minutes to give us a scare. An epic match, to say the least.

July 2037.

As you may have guessed, the summer “break” was non-existent. Partizan’s Super Liga campaign kicked off against Javor less than 24 hours after the Cup of Nations Final.

There was nothing to do but head back to Belgrade and get back to tweaking Partizan’s tactics…

Starbucks was kind enough to sponsor Nicolaj’s sleepless summer. #NoSleep4Nico

Want a sneak peak? Alright, then.

We smashed Javor 6-nil using the latest iteration of the new tactic, even though we (1) were missing multiple key players; and (2) had three 16 year-olds on the pitch at the final whistle. Just look at these key passes. Details to follow in due course…

Boom. That’s right, Taylor. We go again.

September 2037.

The transfer window is closed and we made a few changes this year, many of which were anticipated in the 2036 squad review.

The big departures were Terzic and Zarkovic, both strong players in the 2nd XI. However, neither was going to break into the 1st XI and we’ve got youth coming in. Bobar and Radunovic wanted to be treated/paid like 1st XI players, but simply weren’t on that level.

We have 5 “new” players in the squad, each of whom I’m really excited about — 4 transfers, 1 promotion from within. I’m so excited that let’s drop the screenshots right in, instead of linking them…

Davy Maes is an absolute beast, such that his club-record fee ($9.75M) will ultimately look like a bargain. Maes will start for the 2nd XI and get minutes with the 1st XI from the bench and, occasionally, in the starting lineup. (Super Liga rules require 4 U21s in the matchday squad, 2 of whom must start.)

Next up is academy graduate Dragan Bajic, a player who exploded last year while on loan with Metalac. He’d been on my radar but didn’t look good enough to progress to the first-team squad, but…yeah. I was wrong. He’ll play in the 2nd XI.

I love stealing players from my domestic rivals, and this kid is no exception Ilija Trkulja (hint: it sounds just like it is spelled). I threw a cheeky $1.4M bid out there, and was shocked to see it accepted since Graficar is Red Star’s Teleoptik. Ilija’s pre-existing affinity for playing in the central midfield is mouth-watering – he has all the makings of a central winger, in my book. He’s going to start on the bench for the 2nd XI for now (as the 23rd man in a 23-man squad), but I aim to get him a lot of minutes.

At left wingback, we’ve got Szilard Dobias, a Slovakian left winger who arrived from Slovan Bratislava for $1.4M and will start in the 2nd XI. We’re retraining him to be an aggressive, attack-minded player. If he develops he’ll be something special for us.

[Edit: screenshot fixed]

Last but not least is Bogdan Nica, a solid centerback who was signed for $3.8M from CFR Cluj. He’s got some great attributes for his age, but I really want him to develop. If he has the potential my scouts/coaches think, he’ll be a 1st XI player in 2 years’ time.

Results thus far have been “mixed” from my perspective, thanks to: (1) building up our fluidity on the new tactical setup, which is still being tweaked; and (2) the turnover in our 2nd XI, with promising youth who are new to the tactics/club replacing solid, established twenty-somethings.

“Mixed” is a relative term, of course. We’re annihilating people in the first 6 weeks of the season, except for the 2nd XIs 3-2 win over Proleter, which wasn’t all that close. We also got a decent draw in Champions League, and look good value to progress.

October 2037.

The months continue to pass without news of Stana, or Selene. Our focus is on the pitch, but I can’t help but wonder what happened.

Worse than not knowing, is the near-certainty that Selene is responsible. She has the answers. And while I continue to catch glimpses of what might be her, it is probably just my mind playing tricks on me.

What a start to the 2037/38 campaign.

The Ivorians are on the verge of World Cup qualification after big wins over Namibia (10-nil) and Tanzania (3-nil). We sit 3 points clear of Ghana, who we host on the final matchday. The first tiebreaker is goal difference, so we’ve got an edge. South Africa 2038 is right around the corner.

A +55 goal difference in all competitions, and it’s only the first week of October?!

Domestically, our run of form continues apace, although our 2nd XI was shocked by **** Star — we utterly dominated the match, giving up two goals against the run of play. Not a match to demonstrate our best qualities.

But one thing to notice…we’ve only conceded in 3 matches all season, including the Club World Cup — 21 matches in the new tactic, with only 6 goals against. The only goals conceded by our 1st XI were against Juventus. The other 4 have been conceded by the 2nd XI. In contrast, we’ve scored 61 goals. Emmanuel Ibrahim has 18 goals in 14 appearances (12 starts, 2 as a substitute).

Several days after the debacle against **** Star, the 1st XI walked all over IFK Goteborg, but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net more than once. It was all we needed. 1-nil. 3 points are 3 points, right?

Two weeks later, we put on a clinic in Madrid. 3-nil over the reigning La Liga champions, an impressive display of grace and power. It easily could have been more.

November 2037.

The Ivory Coast qualify in style, beating Namibia 4-nil, before a 1-nil win over Ghana to secure an almost perfect qualifying campaign – 6 wins from 6, 18 goals for, 1 against. The Ghana match wasn’t pretty, but it was a result.

Partizan had a solid month as well, although we conspired to drop points in Germany — a 1-1 draw with Stuttgart, a match we controlled and should have put away. We did ourselves proud on Matchday 4, though, stomping ze Germans 3-1 in Belgrade.

We’re on our way. Just need to keep this up.

December 2037.

The year ends as it began, on the pitch. Dominant. We’ve lost 2 competitive matches all year, one of which at the Club World Cup. We are no longer a “dark horse” in continental football. We may not be the favorites for the Champions League, but few are betting against us.

The vigil last night at the Itchy Kitty was a somber affair. Law enforcement remain baffled, and the active since has long-since been called off. The Chairman has asked us to wear black armbands in Stana’s honor, a request we obviously honored.

I would feel better about it if I hadn’t seen Selene in the back of the room at the vigil, watching me with a neutral expression from within the crowd. Holding my gaze.

I didn’t bother running after her as I’ve done before. I have so many questions. But I don’t think I want to hear the answers.

2037 is in the books. We finished strong, with a comprehensive 2-nil win in Sweden and a 1-nil win over Atletico in Belgrade. We probably should have won both matches by more, but I’ll take the results.  We finish atop the Group, and earn the draw I wanted more than anything else.

We’ll face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. They are the defending champions, having reached the final in 3 of the last 4 years. They’re the giants of Italian football. Their success has also fueled Serie A in overtaking the Premier League as the top league in Europe.

The other results from the Group Stage were beautiful, with Manchester United and Liverpool crashing out, the former at the hands of Hibernian. I love this point in a save, when some of the current-day “big” clubs start to falter.

The other big news from December is the World Cup draw. I have to like our chances, as we’ll face Stephen Robinson’s Scotland and Caleb Porter’s United States in the Group Stage.

Onward into 2038…

March 2038.

Revenge. Revenge is the sexy man’s justice.

After losing the Champions League final and a Club World Cup semifinal to Juventus, we needed a result in the 1st leg in Turin. Suffice to say we got it. 2-nil, and 2 fingers up that Portuguese **** who wouldn’t shut his mouth before the match.

Back in Belgrade, we took the Italian giants apart. After an early goal, Juventus were reduced to 10 men for a clear professional foul (by former Gladbach stalwart Luca Renard) on Ibrahim, and from that moment on it was simple arithmetic. We were ruthless. 4-1 on the night, 6-1 on aggregate. Juventus humiliated.

Our domestic form must improve — the youth in our 2nd XI are no excuse. At the same time, it is hard to blame the lads for being distracted by the bright lights of Europe.

We will face Hugo Lloris’ Lyon in the quarterfinals.

April 2038.

Lyon outplayed us in the first leg. No question about it. A wondergoal from Vukojevic kept it close, though, before Kao’s driving run in the 94th minute drew a blatant foul in the box, allowing Ibrahim to equalize after Ligue 1-leading Lyon were reduced to 10 men. 2-2, heading back to Belgrade. We’ll take it. Oh, yes, we’ll take an away draw to the side that has already secured the Ligue 1 title.

As the second leg kicks off, a giant tifo covers the end behind Begaj’s goal depicting Zlatan holding Lloris’ decapitated head. A tad harsh, perhaps.

That being said, there’s no question that the raucous atmosphere rattled the French. The pressure only increased when Vukojevic curled home from 25 yards in the 3rd minute, followed by Godwin burying one in the 5th. Lyon regained their footing, but could not find a way back into the match. In fact, Lloris’ men had not put a shot on target when Vukojevic fired home our 3rd in the 62nd. And they were dead and buried when Maes headed home the 4th in the 73rd minute.

4-nil on the night. 6-2 on aggregate. An utter annihilation of the French champions-elect, after eliminating Juventus. If we weren’t the favorites to bring home the title before tonight, we are now.

We will face Ognjen Vranjes’ Aston Villa in the semifinals, after an epic comeback away to Gladbach, shocking Nagelsmann’s side 3-nil at Borussia-Park to overcome a 3-1 loss in the first leg. Sandro Schwarz’s Atletico face Murat Yakin’s Wolfsburg in the other semifinal.

May 2038.

An immense atmosphere in Belgrade for the 1st leg. And we start it in style, with Elesin intercepting a poor clearance, laying off to Vukojevic, who finds Baric in the channel. First blood to Partizan in the 3rd minute. Doctor Congo makes it 2-nil in the 21st minute, tapping home a loose ball after Zivkovic whips a free kick into the mixer. Doctor Congo’s seductive jelly-bean goal celebration triggers the lighting of hundreds of flares, covering the goal behind Begaj in smoke. We’re in complete control.

Zoob buries one in the 42rd minute, 3-nil. Aston Villa are imploding.

Baric makes it 4 in the 60th minute, after Vukojevic finds him attacking the half-space, no one near him.

We let our concentration slip, though, and Villa pull one back in the 72rd minute.

We regain our focus, and finish the night strong. 4-1. A massive statement of intent, even if we could have had more.

May 2038.

The biggest question before us is whether we can hold our nerve. Villa will clearly believe that they can — once again — overturn a massive deficit in the 2nd leg, against the odds.

But we have other plans. Ibrahim — our leading goalscorer who was shockingly quiet in the 1st leg — takes advantage in the 5th minute, as our counterpress forces an ill-advised backpass. Ibrahim pounces. 1-nil. The traveling support can be heard back in Belgrade, they’re singing so loud.

Bosanac snatches one for Villa in the 33rd as we fail to clear our lines, to give the English side hope. 1-1 on the night, before Reynaud smashes home an unstoppable shot from 25 yards in the 40th minute. This one isn’t over yet, lads. 2-1 on the night. 3-5 on aggregate.

I lay into the lads at halftime, and we come out like a side reborn. Ibrahim claims his 2nd on the night in the 47th minute. 2-2, our 3-goal aggregate lead restored and — more importantly — an away goals advantage should Villa decline our invitation to roll over and show us their bellies. The traveling supporters’ nerves are calmed, but there is a lot of football still to be played.

On the hour mark, Ibrahim sets the celebrations off in earnest as he claims his hat trick, after Zoob finds him hitting the seam at pace. It is 3-2 on the night, in favor of the Crno-beli.

As the final moments of time-added on expire, the traveling support are in full song. The Villa supporters, for their part, know they are well-beaten on the night and over the course of two legs.

We’ve done it. We’ve sauntered through the knockout rounds, and have every reason to be proud. But the hard work begins now.

We will face Atletico in the final, and they will undoubtedly want revenge after we defeated them twice in the Group stage.

PSA: the Champions League final will be live-blogged on Monday, February 3rd. Kickoff at approximately 8pm London time.

To be continued

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?

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