England went into this tournament with in a rich vein of form. The squad was confident and everyone was training well. The draw for the first round was two days before the tournament was due to start. The whole squad sat and watched in silence as our name was pulled from the hat.... who would our opponents be? We all held our breath as the next ball came out.... Poland, we would play Poland for a place in the Quarter Final against Spain or Portugal.
The night before the game the team seem unworried by the thought of the game. I on the other hand was filled with nerves. Normally the squad would do something of an evening but I was unable to concentrate on anything.... so I sat in my hotel room and fell asleep. I woke up in the morning unaware of what was about to happen. One of my best friend at Wigan amongst the playing staff is Pawel Buskiiwicz. He is Polish and was amongst the first people I spoke to after the draw and told me that if I scored the goals that knocked his country out of the competetion then he would buy me anything that I liked, lucky for him, he is the biggest earner at Wigan and has turned out to be a big coup when we signed him from Germany for £3 million.
The coach ride to the Stadium in Austria. (joint tournament between Swiss and Austria). We had to play our match in cold weather even though it was supposed to be summer. That coach ride took an age and I was beggining to wonder whether we'd make it in time. When we arrived at the stadium, Steve Mclaren told us what to do we normally did and have a look at the pitch while he sticks the team up on the changing room door. Every time he has done that, we have played well and won I have been told. Being only my third time on England duty I was starting to get an idea of what it was like for these players. I was sad that Pawel was not playing for Poland (a knee injury had reacted badly to an early comebcak and would miss the beggining of the 2008/2009 season), but i also felt a sense of relief as he is an extremly talented player. He scores goals for fun and change the game in a blink of en eye, against any opposistion.
After looking at the pitch we returned to see who had made the team.
This was the England team that lined up on that cold summers night in Austria:
1. Robinson Subs
2. Paranby 12. Foster5. Ferdinand 16. J.Cole
3. Neville 14. A.Cole
4. Terry 15. Defoe
6. Downing 17. King
It was a team that was based on form and performance in training. I felt sorry for the players on the bench because many are more talented than the players in the 11 men who would start the game. I was delighted to start but doubted whether I would make an impact.
We walked out onto the pitch to the roar of England fans. I walked out holding the mascots hand, thinking " ******* hell its freezing out here". Poland where more used to the colder whether although we had a much better side on paper. Me and Wayne took our places in the centre circle. The ref blew his whistle and we were off.
England V Poland
1 min: England have kept possesion since kicking off and are starting to display some nice touches. 89 minutes to go though.
3 min: SO CLOSE! England are dispossesed in midfield and are helplessly trying to get back and centre forward Matt Gardner blocks the ball. It loops up in the air and looks to have beaten Robinson, but for the lucky keeper rebounds onto the bar and out of play.
After that I thought that it wasn't going to be my day but luckily,
8 mins: GOAL! AND WHAT A GOAL! Matt Gardner picks the ball up and plays a one-two with Rooney, Gardner flicks the ball wide and stands still on the edge of the box. Downing crosses from the left towards the unmarked striker and without a moments hesitation slams the ball past the despairing keeper. No Chance. English 1-0 Poles
Yes, we where ahead and I had just scored the best goal I will ever score in my life. Poland began to get back into it but couldn't fashion a chance until just after Half-Time when:
47 mins: HOW HAS HE MISSED FROM THERE! Poland have the best chance of the match a deep cross is headed back across goal Niedzalien is 2 yards out, he tries to direct a volley away from Robinson but instead spoons it up and over, big confidence loss for the Poles.
What a lucky escape and the Poles faded out of the game. With minutes left they seemed to have given up until I lost my head
83 mins: Big mistake from Gardner. He's been England's hero tonight but he nearly turned into a villian. He is dispossesed 20 yards out but shows persistence to win back the ball. He then tries to squeeze a ball back to Robinson but succeeds in hitting it to Niedzalien who is put clean through. He shots across the Spurs keeper who is beaten. England fans hold there breath as the ball rebounds off the post. ANOTHER LUCKY ESCAPE FOR US!
85 mins: ANOTHER ONE FOR ENGLAND! Game over! 2-0 England. After he lost his head near his own goal, he then keeps his head to slot in the rebound after a Gerrard free-kick comes back off the. He nips in ahead of the Polish defence and heads home from a yard out. England fans are chanting his name, they love 'im.
86 mins: What a reception Gardner gets as he makes way for Defoe, I think thats a precaution for the next match, but he leaves the pitch to applause and cheers from all parts of the ground.
90 mins: News is coming through from Switzerland. Spain have beaten Portugal 3-2 and will play England barring some ort of miracle.
92 mins: 3-0! WHAT A GOAL FROM ROONEY! He shows that there are two heros in this team and they've both produced magic tonight. This time Rooney beats two people on the left and cuts inside and send a curling shot to the near post. No chance for the hapless Pole in goal and they are going home.
93 mins: Full-Time: England progress without coming out of first gear and they will go through to face the Spainards, join us for live coverage of that game, which should be a cracker. A stunning performance from England's Young Guns, Gardner and Rooney. They could certainly help us win this. Goodbye.
We where with the result never in question from the moment I struck the volley. We were off and running and me and Rooney where gonna take England all the way.
The Quarter Final: Decision Time For Steve.