If You Want A Happy Ending, That Depends On Where You Stop The Story

Duruji Kvareli / Georgia – 2050 Open Thread


December 2049 / January 2050 – Odds & Ends, Transfer News.

As we watch the World Cup draw, the only sound in my head is Europe’s The Final Countdown on an endless repeat.

Fitting, on several levels. (Not to mention inapposite, on many other levels.)

We are drawn into Group K alongside Ecuador and El Salvador, which has to be seen as favorable. Equally favorable, if we advance, we will be paired in the Second Round with a nation from Group L which is comprised of the United States, Serbia and New Zealand.


The Champions League draw is less favorable, as we will face Kylian Mbappe’s Inter Milan, the five-time defending Serie A champions. We have a stellar record against the Italians, even though we have not faced them in 13 years — a time in which our star has risen.


As the awards season rolls around, however, the disappointment of the last few years turns to despair. Incredulity.

While Guga Iashvili claims the World Golden Glove and World Goalkeeper of the Year for the sixth time in eight years, he is our only individual honoree.

It’s a slap in the face. A kick in the ****.

It is disrespectful, simple as.

Of course, Iashvili, Hovring and Sapa are named to the World Team of the Year — the seventh year running for Sapa, third for Iashvili, and 2nd for Hovring. But we see those votes for exactly what they are.

“Do you shheee the beashht?!”

After all these years we are nothing if not clear-minded about how the self-appointed football Illuminati view us. (We are also in agreement that Shaw’s Sean Connery impression could use some work, but that’s another discussion entirely.)


Erovnuli Liga television rights remain stagnant at $218 million per team for the fifth year in a row.

Clubs are getting better at finding the proverbial value in the market, though. Case in point? Dinamo Tbilisi splurging $29.5M on Belgian youth international Maxime Viry.

As one pundit noted before being sacked on the spot, “Viry is very good.”

Though we make no signings, Georgian clubs once again spend big during the Winter 2049/50 transfer window, with $220 million spent through the end of January, behind only the Bundesliga and Premier League — a figure that is certain to rise substantially before the close of the Georgian transfer window in 8 weeks’ time.


February/March 2050 – Champions League, First Knockout Round.

Our final pre-season campaign (not that anyone other than Shaw and I know it) includes a brief tour of the United States. While LA and Orlando are certainly pleasant, something tells me that Columbus would have been less grim in the summer.

But that is neither here nor there when it comes time to face Mbappe’s minions at the Guiseppe Meazza. And we are anything but intimidated by the Italian frauds, with Jikia giving us the lead in the 1st minute. Yet, we nevertheless conspire to lose a wildly-entertaining first leg, 3-2, after twice taking the lad, with Iashvili having an uncharacteristically “off” night.

Back at the Goose, no such nonsense will be tolerated. We find two quick goals through Tsnobiladze (deputizing for Hovring) and Amrell, and do not look back en route to a 5-nil win on the night, to advance 7-3 on aggregate.

We will face Tornike Mogeladze’s Torpedo Kutaisi in the quarterfinals — the 2048 Europa League winners are the most straightforward draw we could have asked for, both on paper and given our head-to-head record.

We have not lost to Torpedo in 24 years, a 99-match unbeaten streak. I hope I didn’t just jinx us…


We kick off the domestic campaign off by claiming our 19th consecutive Super Cup title with a 5-1 win over Dinamo Tbilisi.

We are 1-10 favorites to claim our 23rd straight Erovnuli Liga title, with 9 players in the media’s pre-season Dream XI (although Hovring is inexplicably snubbed, once again), and start the campaign with a sense of purpose.

The supporters continue to sign up for season tickets in record numbers, with 1,928 sold in 2050 (a modest increase from last year’s 1,869).


March 2050 – Pre-World Cup Friendlies.

The optimism in the Georgian camp is at an all-time high. Matched only by the Federation’s expectations.

The bubble had to burst at some point. Maybe it is for the best that we labored to a 1-1 draw against Australia in Tbilisi, followed by a less-than-impressive 4-2 win over Denmark in Batumi.

After the match against the Danes, I tell the lads they played well.

I was lying. And they know it.

If this is how we play in Brazil, we will be going home early.


April 2050 – Champions League, Quarterfinals.

The 2049/50 Winter transfer window closes in Georgia with clubs collectively spending a record $559 million. As one does.

The quality of players flocking to Erovnuli Liga clubs has steadily increased over time, as club finances soar and reputations slowly improve.

Torpedo Kutaisi have been a major part of that push — their 2047/48 Europa League triumph speaks for itself. But they are outmatched in our quarterfinal tie, on both paper and in reality. They need a miracle.

For nearly 40 minutes, the Torpedo faithful find hope in our inability to breach their defense. But, as the years have shown, Atle Hovring will not be denied his due. 1-nil. On the counter. Torpedo’s foolish attempt to push numbers forward is punished. Severely. As one does.

We’re well on our way to a comfortable 2-nil win when Torpedo’s frustration boils over, and Stenson-Rodgers goes in two-footed. It’s a straight red for the aging English international. The despair hangs heavy in the air, oppressive and dark.

We go in search of a third. Jikia finds it in the 88th minute after the post denies Hovring his hat trick.

To their credit, the Torpedo supporters refuse to leave. Surely it is mission impossible now, but still they cling to hope, the fickle mistress of every football supporter.

24 hours later and 232 kilometers to the east, Tbilisi host not one but two Champions League quarterfinal ties, at sites less than 4 kilometers apart. European footballing royalty are in town — Bayern Munich and Juventus. We cannot help but cheer as our rivals fire a shot across the bow, though only one claims victory on the night. The message is clear. We are coming.

And six days later, the proof is in the pudding as a rearguard action sees Dinamo Tbilisi eliminate ze Germans, though Saburtalo are put to the sword.

We take care of business at the Goose, Bull heading home an early, whipped cross from Aladashvili in the 5th minute to disabuse Torpedo of any reason for hope, despite the complacency evident in our stride on the night.

Casual attitude aside, the result was never in doubt. We run out 5-nil winners on the night, 8-nil on aggregate.

In the semifinals, Dinamo Tbilisi will square off against Keita Balde’s Liverpool, while we face Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus — a rematch of last year’s final and the 2045/46 semifinals.


April/May 2050 – Champions League, Semifinals.

Tension builds. An early penalty, buried by Tvildiani. Too many chances, wasted. Jikia finding our 2nd late, to cap a challenging night at the Goose. 2-nil. Good enough, if not the dominant performance we were hoping for on what will be our final European night at the metaphorical fortress built upon the foundations of our early years in a literal fortress.

We’ve played our cards close to the vest. And the pundits have basked in the distraction of a possible all-Georgian final, only to turn on a dime when Dinamo Tbilisi soiled themselves at Anfield — metaphorically. Well, one could argue it was literal after they conceded and saw red in the first 17 minutes, suffering the abject, utter humiliation of a 6-1 loss.

Hold me closer, Tony Danza…that’s going to leave a mark.

The 2nd leg in Italy will boil down to whether we take the chances presented to us. Pirlo’s men have to attack at some juncture, leaving themselves vulnerable. Tactically, it is exactly the dilemma we want to confront them with.

And in the 28th minute, we execute a textbook counterattack after Juventus commit men forward for a corner — Aladashvili gathering, driving into space, and feeding Hovring who has made a career of taking just these chances. 1-nil. A vital away goal. Juventus need 4 goals. Welcome to the party, pals.

Bull doubles our lead in the 59th, flicking home a header after Juventus fail to clear a corner, leaving Khasenov to curl one to the back post. 4-nil on aggregate. That’ll do, lads.

Juventus are done for, and in their frustration are reduced to 10 men after Bernardi goes in two-footed on Jikia. The night finishes 2-1, it’s all too easy.

We will face Keita Balde’s Liverpool in the final, after they saw off Dinamo Tbilisi 1-nil in the 2nd leg (7-1, agg.). A chance for a 5th-straight Champions League title, against a side we know all too well.

It would be the perfect capstone to our tenure at Duruji Kvareli. But only if we earn it.


May 2050 – Champions League, Final.

This is what it all comes down to. 90 minutes. In the build-up, Liverpool are favored.

Because of course they are.

After our preparations are complete the day before the match, I tell the lads that this will be my final match in charge. Silence descends, as Shaw weeps softly in the corner. When we part ways, there is a determined look in everyone’s eyes as they stare headlong at the end of an era.

Inevitably the news spills out of our camp, spreading like wildfire once it reaches the media who begin to offer amateur psychoanalysis as to how this will affect our mentality.

We ignore it, entirely. In this, the final match, we pull no punches. Our 1st XI will take the pitch with no changes.

Tentative early steps, but we begin to hit our stride after a few minutes. In the 11th minute, we strike — Amrell taking a corner short to Sapa, with Amrell whipping a cross after a nice exchange, finding Bull‘s late run into the box. The Scottish international takes it in full stride, smashing home into the back post to give us a 1-nil lead.

We control the remainder of the half — both in terms of possession and quality thereof, with the English barely getting a sniff at goal. Our only frustration at the break is that we have not managed to extend our lead. We have every right to be confident, but Liverpool have a path back into the match if only they have the nerve to take it.

An hour gone, and Liverpool are finally growing into the match. Villa is looking nervous, a mistake waiting to happen. Jincharadze replaces him, as we adjust our lines to increase pressure on the upstart Brits, immediately turning the tide back in our favor ever so marginally.

As we enter the 72nd minute, Navio prepares to enter the fray in place of Arveladze. 10 minutes later, Kvirkvelia replaces the tiring Aladashvili. Liverpool have yet to truly threaten, but at this juncture all it will take is one clean look.

In the 89th minute, our former libero Olivera heads home a Sanchez corner to draw level. It came from practically nothing. If it had to happen, I’m glad it was him.

Which means that — once again, we will go to extra time. Prokhorenko replaces Bull in the 99th minute.

We continue to turn the screws, to no avail. As the second half of extra time commences, penalties appear inevitable despite our domination. Sure enough, Hovring volleys home a curling Tvildiani free kick…but the offsides flag is up. A Sanchez goal moments later is also called back for offsides, by the narrowest of margins.

For the third straight time, a Champions League matchup with Liverpool heads to penalties, after the 2045 final and last year’s semifinals. It is also the second year in a row that the final will go to penalties.


Tvildiani, as always, is our first taker. He missed his penalties in the two prior shootouts. This time? This time, he buries it. Sanchez, being a cheeky ****, attempts a cheeky dink down the middle, but Iashvili has his measure. 1-nil after the first round. A precarious, early lead, but an advantage we will gladly take.

Jikia will take our 2nd. Arguably the greatest forward in Georgian footballing history, following in the footsteps of Giorgi Kinkladze…rises to the occasion. Perez hammers his penalty high to Iashvili‘s right; Guga is close, but that one does not get saved. 2-1, our narrow lead holds.

Sapa, our midfield general, steps forward. Cold-blooded, he puts it into the bottom corner beyond Fredriksson‘s reach. Painter finds the same corner to keep Liverpool alive. 3-2 after 3 rounds. The tension builds.

Amrell‘s penalty is read by Fredriksson, who saves comfortably. A disaster. Olivera will take Liverpool‘s fourth penalty — like Tvildiani, he has missed both of his penalties in the prior shootouts. This time, he manages to beat Iashvili. We are level at 3 after 4 rounds.

5-time Ballon d’Or winner Hoving will take our 5th. The very picture of composure, he fires into the top corner without blinking. Power, placement. It had it all. Fall to take for Liverpool, having scored a crucial penalty last year — Liverpool‘s 4th. The pressure is too much, like John “I’m the Captain Now” Terry in Moscow, Fall screws his penalty wide to the right, before falling to his knees in horror.

For the 5th year in a row — and the 7th time in a decade — we are the Kings of Europe. It is nothing less than we deserved on the night. It still tastes as sweet as it did the first time.

The celebrations after the match are what you would expect — full of joy and reflection, as we look back on all that has been accomplished over the last 28 years…and look ahead to the World Cup.

Jikia claims the Golden Boot, Goal of the Tournament and Midfielder of the Tournament, as six players are named to the Dream XIIashvili, Amrell, Arveladze, Khasenov, Bull and Sapa.

It is a fitting end to life at Duruji Kvareli. After more than 28 years, we leave the club as the undisputed heavyweight of the domestic and European game, unbeaten in domestic competition for more than 15 years, basking in our latest triumph and standing on the precipice of further glory.

But Brazil 2050 looms large. We must now focus all of our attention on the Crusaders.

Talk to me, Goose…

June 2050 – European Review.

Teemu Pukki is the man tapped by the Board to take over where Levan “Goose” Akhobadze left off.

So, for the last time on FM 21, let’s take a quick look at where the Erovnuli Liga sits in relation to the other European leagues, and assess the challenge ahead of Pukki.

In terms of reputation, the Erovnuli Liga remains sixth — a four-star league, behind the “big 5.” Cracking the top 5 is something that will have to wait for FM 22, it seems. We’ve come on leaps and bounds, with other clubs beginning to make waves on the continent…so I’d have to think we’re close, but I’ve been thinking that for a long time now.

Georgia remain 2nd in the club coefficient table, however, which is a beautiful sight. Catching England is a big ask. Doable, but we need other domestic clubs to push further in Europe.

Finally, Duruji Kvareli remain atop the club and reputation and coefficient tables, and it isn’t even close as to the latter. (Note the inclusion of Saburtalo and Dinamo Tbilisi in the coefficient top 10, with Torpedo Kutaisi and Dila Gori also rising.)


Brazil 2050 – Georgia Squad Review, World Cup Preview.

The squad traveling to Brazil should be familiar to anyone who has followed this save over the years.

14 of our 23 players are contracted to Duruji Kvareli; 22 of them have played for the club.

The squad for Brazil 2050.

We will be playing my Nagelsmann-inspired strikerless tactic, dubbed PM Haaienvuist — one that is generally suited to our status as an underdog when facing the footballing elite.

Coming soon to Amazon Prime Video — SharkFist: Road To Brazil.

There’s no question that the Georgian national team has come a long ways in the years since this save began, and currently sit 13th in the FIFA rankings. Without further ado, let’s take a close look at the players who taken on — and conquered — many of the European giants in recent years.

Goalkeepers.

In goal, the answer to any question one might ask is the same: Guga Iashvili. He’s been the man between the sticks for club and country for more than a decade. Penalty shootout hero. Six-time Golden Glove and World Goalkeeper of the Year winner. A legend who will serve as our vice captain in Brazil.

Iashvili’s backups will be Luka Burnadze and Nukri Shalamberidze, the same keepers who’ve been his backups at Duruji Kvareli over the last 7-8 years.

Burnadze came through the Zestaponi academy, but was signed in 2043 for the purposes of long-term development. His $11M move to Bayern has not truly paid off, but it did pave the way for Shalamberidze — another Zestaponi academy graduate — to join our first-team squad.

Burnadze and Shalamberidze are both fully capable keepers. They just aren’t Iashvili. Few keepers are. Neither has been capped, and neither will be in Brazil barring an injury to Iashvili.

Defenders.

Giorgi Tvildiani will be deployed as our libero. One look will tell you why. Though he is no Katchip, he holds a special place in my heart. We changed our tactics at Duruji Kvareli to unleash his potential, and it is no understatement to say that he has been the beating heartbeat of the squad for years even as we reverted to PM Haaienvuist for the sake of player development (which tends to stunt the libero’s statistics and match ratings). He is our primary penalty and free kick taker, and will be key to any success we might enjoy in Brazil.

Giorgi Gvazava was Tvildiani‘s backup for years — a libero in the deep-lying playmaker mold. He will reprise this role in Brazil, while also serving as a capable backup throughout the spine of the squad, including at centerback where we lack depth.

Levan Kamladze and Irakli Arveladze are our primary centerbacks, both of whom are long-term fixtures with the Crusaders. Arveladze has been in Duruji Kvareli’s 1st XI for years, whereas Kamladze fell down the pecking order recently and moved on. Unfortunately, they are the only natural centerbacks in the squad and pool capable of taking to the pitch.

Nika Samkharadze is a Dila Gori product who we signed for development purposes, but never made an impact, departing after several loan spells. He is not good enough. But he’s the only other natural centerback worth considering, with no youth prospects on the horizon.

Accordingly, we have to get creative. Since I insist on having 2 players per position in the squad, Giorgi “Captain” Kvirkvelia will take the fourth and final centerback position in Brazil. Yes, he’s a defensive midfielder, who played as the roaming playmaker in Duruji Kvareli‘s 2nd XI. But he’s more than capable of doing a job at centerback (or libero) as needed…in short spurts, given that he’s only 5’9″.

Mamia Jincharadze is a converted winger who will deploy as our right wingback, supported by Guram Grigalashvili. We need these players to be aggressive in possession, and as good as they are…this may be a problem in Brazil if they aren’t on their game.

Similarly, Giorgi Khuroshvili will play with the 1st XI in Brazil — a long-time Duruji Kvareli squad member, he is more than good enough…the only question being whether he can make an impact at this level, when it counts.

Finally, I thought long and hard about our backup at left wingback, before tapping Mertskhali‘s Andria Koroshinadze. The only member of the squad to never pull on the Duruji Kvareli jersey, he is also the most promising youth prospect in Georgia. My scouts consistently rated his potential at/above anyone else at the club, and Mertskhali flat-out rejected every offer I made (including a $25 million offer in 2049). Every indication is that he will be something special. He made the squad ahead of Gagechiladze, on merit, even if he is an unfinished product.

(In all candor, Koroshinadze has tempted me to carry on in the save, but I’m going to let the legend he is prepared to write remain in my head.)

Midfielders.

At roaming playmaker, we have brought Giorgi Aladashvili and Soso Bokhashvili to Brazil. They’re both solid players, but Aladashvili gets the nod due to his long-throws ability, which gives us a weapon when struggling to unlock a stubborn opponent.

Maxim Prokhorenko and Stoyan Gospodinov are our starting mezzalas — dual nationals who elected to switch their allegiance to Georgia at pivotal moments in their careers. They’ve been mainstays in the Duruji Kvareli squad for years.

Zviad Gedenidze and Vano Gogokhia are their backups, with Gogokhia battling Koroshinadze and Jabua (below) for the informal title of “most promising young Georgian player.” Bags of raw talent, though Gedenidze has not reached the potential we originally saw in him.

Attacking Midfielders.

As noted earlier in the thread, Otar Jikia has a legitimate claim to being the best Georgian forward in history. Signed from PAOK, he arrived at the age of 18 and has been in Duruji Kvareli‘s 1st XI for years, including the 5 consecutive Champions League-winning campaign. Reliable and loyal, his absence from the Euros 2 years ago (due to injury) was a bitter pill to swallow.

Nika Koberidze will pair with Jikia in the 1st XI — a Duruji Kvareli academy graduate who was the proverbial square-peg-in-a-round hole after breaking into the first team squad, back when his obvious ability as a shadow striker was misplaced in PM Draugr (which utilizes 2 inverted wingers and an advanced playmaker). Successful loan spells led to a permanent move to West Ham, where he was an important player in his maiden campaign, only to rarely see the field over the last year. A shame, no doubt.

Irakli Tsnobiladze has been a jack-of-all trades for Duruji Kvareli, and was our leading goalscorer and POTY in the 2046 campaign, behind 46 goals in all competitions. Not quite good enough to crack the 1st XI on merit, he is a reliable, loyal member of the 2nd XI for both club and country.

Saba “the Hut” Jabua is a graduate of Lille’s academy, who we targeted for signing as soon as possible due to his potential, which is rivaled only by Koroshinadze and Gogokhia. His game-changing speed coming off the bench could prove vital late in a tight game.

Final Thoughts.

After all of our success in the last few years — reaching two consecutive Nations League semifinals, bracketed by triumphant qualifying campaigns for the Euros and World Cup, I went into our pre-tournament friendlies with high hopes. If we could put together a run of form, anything could happen when we get to Brazil.

The Football Gods have seen fit to put me in our place, however, with an undeserved 1-nil win over the USA, followed by a 2-nil loss to Burkina Faso. Both sides were defensive. Yet we created few chances of quality, and only scored 1 goal. Nowhere near good enough, and shockingly poor after our performances these last 7 years. I know that “better” sides will not sit so deep against us, but I am nevertheless worried that the final chapter will be a horrifying display of inadequacy — the football equivalent of the Twilight novels.

If I had a dollar for every time I had to tell Shaw to put his shirt back on…

We will face El Salvador and Ecuador on matchdays 2 and 3 of the Group Stage, meaning that — if we advance — we will head straight into the knockout rounds without a rest. They drew their match, 1-1, which means we guarantee progression with a win over El Salvador…a task I did not expect to cause me this much anxiety, if I’m being honest.


Brazil 2050 – World Cup, Group Stage.

As expected, El Salvador approach the match defensively. And they prove to be a tough nut to crack. We control the match but it takes more than an hour for Koberidze to break the deadlock, but only after Jikia has to be withdrawn due to a potential injury. Tvildiani sees a late penalty saved before Koberidze secures all 3 points with a 95th minute goal.

It is a nervy, disconcerting start to the tournament. The mood at the hotel is not helped when we learn Jikia‘s fate — he will be out for approximately 2 weeks. In more optimistic times, we might take heart in this prognosis.

But these are not optimistic times.

Though we have qualified for the knockout rounds, I resist the temptation to rotate the squad heavily against Ecuador. We need to find a run of form, and will not do so by chopping and changing the lineup.

This time, our opponents are less defensive…and we immediately prove why they should have been from the outset, as Koberidze spearheads a counterattack to claim our 1st in the 17th minute, and then claims our second with a thunderbolt to the near post in the 57th. The more open nature of the game suits us perfectly, as Koberidze finds a third…and then a fourth.

It is a man-of-the-match performance from the West Ham man, who is playing as if he has something to prove. We ride his coattails into the Second Round, where we will face the Americans.

The biggest shock of the Group Stage? Argentina‘s elimination at the hands of Morocco and Romania in Group J.


Brazil 2050 – World Cup, Second Round.

Optimism returns to the Crusaders’ camp. We have extricated ourselves from the mental rut we were in, and are facing a United States side that we managed to beat on a “bad” day at the office.

But we know that we cannot take anything for granted in Porto Alegre. Jikia returns to the bench — a welcome presence even if he will not play.

Yet, we need him. Throughout the first half, we create chances but are nowhere near finishing them. It is a virtual repeat of our pre-tournament friendly.

In the end, the deadlock is broken in the 57th minute after a period of sustained pressure. The Americans fail to clear a corner, falling to Gospodinov, who settles and then rifles one into the top corner at Hakmon’s near post.

Forced to chase the game, the Americans have to come out of their shell, meaning that we are finding chances. Iashvili’s hesitation is nearly punished as he races off his line for a loose ball in the 72nd but arrives after Martinez, who hits the post from an impossible angle. A near-disaster.

But we hold firm, nearly finding a second on several occasions.

It is a narrow win, but a win nevertheless. We will face Algeria, who needed extra time to beat Morocco, 2-1.


Brazil 2050 – World Cup, Third Round.

We are hopeful that Algeria‘s extra time exploits will leave them gassed in the Second Round, handing Jabua a spot in the lineup. His pace could cause all kinds of trouble, as Jikia is on the verge of a full return.

But, playing against type, Jabua turns provider as he feeds Koberidze in the 2nd minute. 1-nil. Algeria’s plan to sit deep is in tatters, as they look to launch forward but are instead hit with a counterattack. Prokhorenko finishes in the 27th to all but end the tie, after a brilliant Hollywood ball from young Koroshinadze.

Tvildiani makes it 3 from the penalty mark in the 58th — his final touch of the match, as his tired legs need a rest. Gospodinvov finds our 4th in the 80th minute, an incisive, aggressive through ball from Bokhashvili the catalyst.

It is the performance we needed. A trite, yet apt saying.

Spain await in the quarterfinals. They will be looking to avenge their 5-3 humiliation at the Bernabeu in the Nations League, and on paper should annihilate us. We will need a top performance from all, to advance.


Brazil 2050 – World Cup, Quarterfinals.

Truth be told, we’ve already accomplished more than we have any right to expect. Yet it is not enough. It never is.

The realization that it never will be enough, is a bitter pill to swallow. Shaw thinks I’m being “meta,” when I say that, but after 20 minutes of arguing about what “meta” means, and we’re late for the team breakfast.

Not cool.

Jikia returns to the XI. We need every advantage we can get tonight.

Yet for all of our concerns, a stalemate ensues in the first half. Spain control possession while we deny them any meaningful look at goal…until our concentration slips moments before the half, Goni ghosting in at the near post to finish. Bastard.

At the half, we know what we will have to do. Commit men forward in the right moments. Wreak havoc in their box. Prohorenko replaces Gospodinov immediately — a planned substitution, given their tiredness. He makes an immediate impact in the 50th, Spain clearing after Prohorenko lashes a brilliant half-volley, off a long throw from Aladashvili…only to launch a counterattack of their own.

Moments later, Khuroshvili gets around the corner, to the byline, cutting back for Jikia to tap home from 6 yards out. It is all too easy. Back in the balance.

In the 66th minute, Tvildiani rises from among the crowd to head home another long throw in from Aladashvili, with Pons stuck to his line. 2-1. An improbably lead, to say the least.

Grigalashvili and Bokhashvili replace Jincharadze and Aladashvili, respectively. The Spaniards will be relentless, now. We need to reinforce our back line.

Yet, against the odds, the Spaniards appear to be a spent force as the 4th official signals there will be 4 minutes of injury time. It seems an eternity. But in the 94th minute, we intercept what has to be their final attack, and launch a counterattack of our own…Spain counterpunch, and Sanchez has a gilt-edged chance to level the match…but fires straight at Iashvili.

Their final chance, utterly wasted. We advance, 2-1.

Unlike at the 2044 and 2048 Euros, and the 2046 World Cup, we are showing up when it matters.

In the semifinals, we will square off against hosts Brazil. Shaw and I can only laugh at the thought. On paper, we do not stand a chance. But our career has been defined by defying expectations. Why should this be any different?


Brazil 2050 – World Cup, Semifinals.

There is no question, ahead of the match, that we are tired. That’s the nature of the beast.

It is no longer just about the skill each side brings to the table. Their respective tactical acumen. Now, the question of determination comes into play. Drive. Heart. ****s.

(Speaking of the last, Shaw decides that waggling his in front of the lads would be good motivation. Only, he did it at breakfast. Which did not have the desired effect.)

The match sparks to life in the early minutes, as our harassment of the hosts in their build-up play sees Bokhashvili disrupt a pass, with the deflection falling to Jabua. Bokhashvili immediately breaks for goal, and after pausing Jabua simply lays it back for Aladashvili, who plays it over the top — classic third-man running. Flavio hesitates, and Bokhashvili punishes him. 1-nil. A gift from the Football Gods, if ever there was one.

Brazil are shaken. Untethered. The crowd, silenced. They cannot find their rhythm. It is glorious.

Yet, as time passes, they begin to grow into the match. At the break it is clear — they will get their chances in the 2nd half. And, as their confidence grows our legs grow heavy. It is a dangerous combination.

In the 50th minute, we bring Koroshinadze and Gedenidze on for Khuroshvili and Bokhashvili. Fresh legs, relatively speaking. I am hopeful that that — combined with the arrogance of youth, too blind to the task before us to doubt themselves — will see us through, steady the ship in midfield so that we can counterpunch as we start to take body blows and the crowd awakens.

With an hour gone, we still hold firm. But multiple players are gasping for air. Kamladze replaces Arveladze, to shore up our defense.

We manage a counterattack in the 70th minute, but Jabua scuffs his shot straight at Flavio. Minutes later, Brazil fail to clear a long throw from Aladashvili…we recylce possession once…twice…three times, before Koroshinadze feints towards the line, only to cutback for Prokhorenko lurking wide of the near post. He utterly smashes it to the near post, leaving Flavio no chance. 2-nil. With less than twenty minutes to play. In the long shadow of Christ the Redeemer, the Crusaders are laying waste to the mighty Brazilians.

Frustration building, Venicio Tomas kicks out at Gedenidze…he’s on a yellow, but escapes with a warning. The Crusaders’ support is beside themselves — by all rights, Brazil should be down to 10 men. But the FIFA mafia also have a long shadow. We are flustered, and our concentration breaks. Brazil intercept a wayward pass out of the back, pouncing with a vengeance to pull one back.

We are dead on our feet. Out of substitutions. But with 10 minutes to play, we remain on top. 4 minutes of stoppage time, and still we will not stop looking to find a third in transition.

The final whistle blows. We have done the impossible. Hosts Brazil are done for.

In the post-match press conference, Shaw patiently explains the philosophy behind the win. One we have long discussed internally, but not breathed word of to the press due to its vulgar connotations.

“It wasn’t pretty. But as the Zlatan once told me when I was but a young, impressionable lad, pretty costs extra.”

We will face Luciano Volcano’s England at the Maracana, after they defeat Turkey, 3-nil.


Brazil 2050 – World Cup, Final.

“Hello! Hello! And welcome to Rio! Land of the samba and the tanned, firm backside, both of which are as unfamiliar to my co-host, the one and only Gary Neville, as a toothbrush!!!”

[On screen, Jamie Carragher laughs amiably. Gary, standing beside him, doesn’t even seem to have noticed, as he mouths something to someone off screen, and appears to be requesting something to drink. Jamie nudges him.]

“Gary…Gary, my old son, we’re live!”

“IT’S COMING HOME, JAMIE-LAD!!! FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME!!!”

[An exasperated look crossed Jamie’s face, as Gary begins to jump around the studio, shouting at the top of his lungs and tearing off his suit to reveal a full England kit. Jamie gamely tries to carry on, putting his hand on Gary’s arm.]

“Gary, Gary…let’s settle down, now.”

“Back off, Jamie-lad! I’ve been taking karate lessons online!”

“Gary, I know you’re excited. I’m excited. The people out there watching on TV, they’re excited. We’re all excited.”

“It’s coming home, isn’t it, Jamie?”

[Jamie sighs deeply, before continuing in a resigned, low monotone.]

“Yes, Gar-bear, it’s coming home.”

[Gary immediately begins to dance wildly, thrusting his hips in time with a song that only he can hear.]

“At the end of the day, when we look at the players taking to the pitch, you can’t look past this England squad, now, can you? Talent, from top to bottom. Brilliant lads. Handsome as the day is long. Talented lads, with brilliant smiles–“

“Oi!!! British dentistry is not on trial, Jamie-lad! That’s out of order!”

“It was a compliment, Gar…”

“Can we just focus on the match, here?”

[Gary mimics him in a mocking, childish tone.]

“Real professional, Gary.”

[Gary begins to gyrate in what he perceives to be a seductive fashion, moving steadily closer to Jamie, his eyes locked on Jamie’s, mouthing the words “it’s coming home” repeatedly, thrusting his hips aggressively to accentuate the word “home.”]

“Any thoughts on the Georgians, Gary? England are rightly favored, and for all the talent that this English side has, the Crusaders have had an extra day of rest, not to mention legendary manager Levan Akhobadze, known as ‘Goose’ to his friends; Guga Iashvili, the Georgian Lev Yashin; Giorgi Tvildiani, the goalscoring, swashbuckling libero cut from the de Bruyne mold… After all, the Georgians beat England twice during Euro qualifying in 2045. Can the Lions tackle the Goose here in Rio?!”

“Tackle the Goose, Jamie-lad? By the time tonight is over, we’ll stuff and mount that cheeky ****, in multiple senses of the word. FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME, JAMIE-LAD!!!”

[Jamie is saved from having to respond to his enthusiastic co-host by the first notes of the official World Cup anthem — The Killers’ Mr. Brightside. Gary begins to sing along with the music as the teams take to the pitch, sipping from a large mug that has been passed to him from off-camera. Kickoff is imminent.]
But it’s just the price I pay, destiny is calling me…

5th minute.

“The Lions of England, flexing their loins as they stride across the Sergenti that is the Maracana…Hill, looking for someone in the middle…Kamladze heads clear, to Koberidze…is this a chance for a trademark counterattack from the Georgians, Gary?”

“IT’S COMING HOME, JAMIE-LAD!”

“Koberidze, driving, thrusting his way towards goal, like a horned-up Gary Neville…driving forward with passion!!! Shaping to shoot as Graham flies in with a crunching tackle, to deflect out for a corner.”

“What a tackle, Jamie-lad! Reminds me of when I got into a fight during one of my U10 games. I heard some kid talking **** about me and I ran up to him and went in, two-footed. Cleaned him right out, put him in the hospital for a week. Apparently that wasn’t okay for me to do as a linesman.”

[Awkward silence ensues, as Georgia prepare to take their corner, and England clear.]

11th minute.

“The early minutes are surprisingly even, Gary, with Georgia looking dangerous. Any thoughts, Gary, on the tactical approaches of the teams, or otherwise?”

“I dunno, Jamie-lad. I mean, Phil says he only went to get a sports massage, he didn’t realize it was that kind of establishment. But Phil doesn’t like it when someone else touches his calves, yeah?”

[Jamie is stunned into silence, just staring blankly. Not even blinking, as England reclaim possession and clear their lines.]


22nd minute.

[Gary is looking more morose with each passing minute, as if you can see his confidence waning.]

England are starting to find their sea legs, yeah? More and more finding their rhythms, instead of letting the Goose’s men set the tone.”

“There is a lot of energy in the Maracana tonight, Jamie-lad, and some of it is just so Rainbow Rhythms, and some of it is just so not Rainbow Rhythms.”


27th minute.

“Another trademark counterattack from Georgia, that. From one end to the other in moments, Koberidze just pulling his shot wide. I thought it was 1-nil, Gar-bear. The Lions simply cannot keep giving Georgia these chances. Simple as.”

[Gary just grunts in response, taking a long swig from his mug.]

33rd minute.

“First good chance of the night for England, but Turner just taps it at Iashvili! A massive chance gone missing, Gary!”

[Gary shouts in wordless frustration, spilling the purple contents of his mug all over his white England kit, before gesturing for more. The darkness in his eyes is growing visibly.]

Halftime.

[A pleading tone enters Gary’s voice, as the halftime whistle blows.]

“Is it coming home, Jamie-lad?”

“I don’t know, Gary. It’s hard to say at this point. As they say, goals change games, and I have a feeling that the next goal will be huge.”

[A solitary tear falls from Gary’s eye, before he takes another long pull from his now-refilled mug.]

“Phil always said that. I miss Phil, Jamie.”

“He’s next door, doing the Esperanto broadcast for ESPN 8, ‘the Ocho,’ why don’t you go say hello?”

“I dunno, Jamie. His new perm is pretty intolerable.”

“Yeah…it is.”

“It’s the worst use of scissors since my failed vasectomy, mate.”


60th minute.

“Georgia have been engaging England higher up the pitch, Gary. But you can see their legs are getting heavy. The chances are starting to fall England’s way, even if they are poor chances. Something has to give.”

[Bokhashvili and Grigalashvili will enter the fray, replacing Aladashvili and Jincharadze.]

72nd minute.

[Gary lies in the fetal position in a pool of purple liquid, occasionally turning his head to lap up some of the spilled drink.]

“Gary, Gedenidze replaces Gospodinov, the last substitution for either side, barring extra time. But…I don’t know if I can take much more of this. Both sides are bending, but neither will break. A classic midfield battle, for the most part.”


81st minute.

[Gary softly mumbles Kaiser Chiefs’ Coming Home to himself, still curled upon himself on the floor.]

“You can see that the Georgians, despite their heavy legs, will not give in. If anything, they are pressing more intensely now than at any other point in the match! High risk, high reward. That must be the gamble.”


89th minute.

“Brauer collects and looks to go long, Gary, as the English line pushes up…but Tvildiani meets it, heading down for Jikia who lays off to Prokhorenko, who spies Koberidze and Gedenidze looking to get forward into space…it’s a perfect ball…a footrace between Koberidze and Wallace, which Koberdize wins to go through on Brauer, who has stayed on his line…KOBERIDZE SMASHES PAST BRAUER TO HIS NEAR POST!!! CRUSADERS 1, ENGLAND NIL!!! IN THE 89TH MINUTE!!!”

[Gary screams wordlessly, his pain made manifest. He begins to flop back and forth in his puddle of Sizzurp, throwing a tantrum like a petulant 2 year-old, and shouting at Jamie in an accusatory tone.]

“YOU TOLD ME IT WAS COMING HOME, JAMIE! YOU PROMISED!!!”

“I’m…I’m sorry, Gary. You know, maybe Luciano and the lads are just lulling Georgia into a false sense of security? We’ve got 3 minutes of injury time. That’s loads of time, son. A lifetime…at least, that’s what yer missus says…”

[With a howl, Gary launches himself at Jamie, screeching like an enraged spider monkey and windmilling his arms madly. Chaos ensues.]

92nd minute.

[No one in the broadcast booth sees it, due to the melee that is underway, but Georgia are on the attack when England regain possession and look to counter. They do so at pace, quickly finding Turner behind the line, with only Iashvili to beat though the hands are raised for offsides, and he smashes it home. A massive goal, in the dying moments of the match. The Georgian protests fall on deaf ears. The goal stands, as the officials refuse to even check VAR. Akhobadze is beside himself with anger, remonstrating with the fourth official, and it seems that Shaw may have **** himself in the technical area.]

93rd minute.

[Far from disheartened, the Georgians immediately get up the pitch for the restart, and launch forward aggressively. England, overcome with emotion, have lost the plot entirely as Prokohorenko is allowed to cross without any pressure, finding Koberidze who volleys home a sumptuous goal (video). Georgia have retaken the lead under the most incredible circumstances, England have not touched the ball since Turner’s goal!]

95th minute.

[As the sounds of scuffling and screaming continue from the broadcast booth, down on the pitch 3 minutes of extra time have stretched to 5. But England are a broken side at this point, unable to mount any further resistance after the Georgian counterstroke that came in the form of Koberidze’s half-volley. After what feels like an eternity, the final whistle blow. Georgia have done it.]

July 2050 – World Cup, Review.

The moments are etched in my memory, as the days following victory in Rio pass as if in a fog.

Koberidze‘s epic goals in the last minutes of the final are enough to see him win the Golden Boot and Best Player awards — ironic, that the man deemed “a square peg in the round hole” during his time at Duruji Kvareli, later benched by West Ham, has performed on the grandest stage. He is only 22, with an entire career ahead of him where only a few short months ago some of the pundits were shocked to see him continue with the squad.

Iashvili continues to be recognized among the world’s best, year after year — now claiming the Best Goalkeeper award.

Iashvili, Arveladze, Tvildiani and Prokhorenko all are named to the Dream XI. An immense honor.

Georgia climb to a record 5th in the FIFA rankings — flawed though they may be, it is a mark of prestige, to say the least.

Though we would have resigned no matter the outcome, there is nothing left to accomplish with the Crusaders. It has all been said and done.

There is only one thing to do. Shaw and I tender our resignations.


July 2050 – The End.

After all these years, it is strange to find yourself with nothing to do.

No training session to plan. No snot-nosed brat to scout, whose parents think he is the next Valdas Freidgeimas. No match on the horizon.

Just time.

And Shaw. Like a faithful Golden Retriever, he sits by my side. Patient. Selfless. Loyal.

After spending the weekend hosting a party in the epic blanket fort we built at our shared home outside of Kvareli, there is only one question on my mind.

“Luke, wanna build a cardboard submarine?”


And with that, the FM 21 version of The Fourth Glass (aka Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave), comes to a close.

It has been an epic journey, one which was going to end after the World Cup, one way or the other. Given how poorly we performed in the pre-tournament friendlies, I felt this save was likely to end in disgrace notwithstanding all that had been accomplished at the club level.

While success has been found with the Georgian national team and Duruji Kvareli in both the current save and the original, FM 20 version, after two attempts we have yet to catapult the Erovnuli Liga into the top 5 leagues, in terms of reputation.

Never fear, we will return to Georgia on FM 22 (or perhaps 23), to take another crack at it.

You can’t keep me away from Georgia, it seems.

Levan “Goose” Akhobadze: Profile | Career Statistics | Biography | Retirement

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God leaned over to the Devil, drew him close and declared, “those who will drink three glasses of chacha may be on my side. After that, they are yours.”

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused, the basic concept behind Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Levan “Goose” Akhobadze’s attempt to take over the football world, starting from the Georgian Regional Leagues, can be accessed through the Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave Archive.


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