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If you know anything about football video games, you'll know that Sensible Soccer is the greatest one of all time. I'm not here to argue: I am absolutely correct. First released for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST in 1992, this fast-paced, super-intuitive, top-down kick-about sim was an instant hit with fans of the beautiful game - and across several iterations through the '90s, it crystalised its reputation as the absolute pinnacle of virtual footballing.
Hey. I said no arguing. Okay. With Euro 2020 about to kick-off, having been delayed for a year by the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought it'd be neat to simulate the tournament using the greatest football video game of all time. So, I did. Specifically, I've used Sensible Soccer: European Champions, for the SEGA Mega Drive. As a game that came out in the UK in 1993 - and retitled as Championship Soccer '94 for its stateside release - it's got its shortcomings when it comes to accurately representing the squads and structure of this year's multi-country extravaganza. But, reader, if that was going to stop me, you wouldn't be reading these words, would you.
Sensible Soccer is back in 2021, releasing for Evercade via the Codemasters Collection - watch the trailer, below...
What's more, it's not like the game from the early 1990s is the only one to struggle with bringing Euro 2020 into my living room ahead of time, as we'll see later on. For now, though, let's dig into what happens when you try to play this year's tournament in a game that a) doesn't have all the participating countries available (North Macedonia and Slovakia? Forget about it); b) can't structure a competition to include a league-based first round and then a knock-out system; and c) has a complete roster of deliberately misspelled player names, written as if the devs were transcribing 'Allo 'Allo's Officer Crabtree, which range from the hilarious to the wholly incomprehensible.
Euro 2020 features 24 teams, but due to the structuring of custom tournaments in this particular edition of Sensible Soccer, the best I can do is run a 32-team competition, entirely composed of knock-out rounds. Most of the teams in this summer's event are here, from Finland and Hungary to the bigger guns like France, Germany and Spain. I include the qualified home nations of England, Scotland and Wales - and so too the Republic of Ireland, because I need to make up the numbers. That means that there's room, too, for Greece - European Cup winners in 2004, of course, but not attending this one - as well as Lithuania, Estonia, Norway and Iceland.
The first round of what I call 'Euro TwennyTwenny' in the game, because custom tournaments can't have numbers in them, is a bloodbath. Latvia are spanked by France 6-0, Les Bleus' star forwards 'Iric Centona' and 'Jian-Pierre Pepin' (ahem, Eric Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin) destroying the defence of the Baltic minnows. Scotland also put six past Czechoslovakia - no Czech Republic or Slovakia in this game - powered on by a strikeforce of 'Elly McCuist' and 'Kivin Gellacher' (Ally McCoist and Kevin Gallacher). Wales eliminate the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands need extra time to knock out the Germans 2-0, and Portugal go all the way to penalties to get past Austria. England breeze through by comparison, 3-1 against the Swiss.
But the England of this particular game - much like the England of the early '90s, after the squad's gallant efforts at the World Cup in 1990 - isn't a force to be reckoned with. In the real-world Euros of 1992, the late Graham Taylor's team were knocked out in the first round, and in my Sensi simulation it's the second round where they stumble, losing 2-1 to Portugal. Hard as it may be to believe, but a team of 'Devid Betty', 'Cerlton Pelmer' and 'Endy Sonton' just couldn't cut it - and while he'd be a superstar come Euro '96 and the World Cup of 1998, 'Elan Shiarer' was far from the complete striker at this point. No Gary Lineker in this line-up, too - but he'd retired from internationals by the game's release.
Fast-forward to the quarter-finals and there's a distinct lack of European giants progressing to the last four. England's conquerors, Portugal, are humbled by the not-even-playing-this-year Greece. Ukraine defeat Wales by a single goal - and it'll be a heck of a result if the Welsh make the last-eight this summer. France's thrashing of opponents is a distant memory as they're beaten 1-0 by Sweden, with 'Tumas Brulin' having a blinder (England fans watching in '92 will remember what that's like). And Hungary take Italy to extra time before beating them, again, by a single goal. The semi-finals are set: Ukraine will face-off against Hungary, and Greece will play Sweden.
Naturally, that cannot happen, at Euro 2020. Greece are staying home. But what could is a final between Sweden and Ukraine, which is what Sensible Soccer spits out at me, as the climax to this barely believable tournament. And it's Sweden, tournament hosts in 1992 (where they were beaten semi-finalists), who emerge victorious by a single goal to nil. This summer, the Swedes will have to navigate a group of Spain, Poland and Slovakia, to even get a sniff of the anything-can-happen knock-out rounds. But they only lost one game in qualifying for the finals, to their group-mates Spain, and have a highly experienced squad even without the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimović. They seem to be around 80/1 with the bookies, so they're a long shot - but so were Leicester City for the Premier League, and look how that played out.
But you know what else is a football video game? FIFA 21. And just like Sensible Soccer: European Champions, EA's title does not allow the player to create their own 24-team European tournament, and nor does it feature all of the qualified teams. But, in the interest of offering a contemporary comparison, I nevertheless threw together a FIFA 21 version of Euro 2020, using four groups (16 teams total, as there aren't enough European national sides in the game for 32) and then knock-out rounds. The participants, deep breath: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and Wales. The groups: totally randomised.
And the winner? England, actually. I know, I'm as surprised as you are, but through quick-simming all of the matches, the final game saw the Three Lions take on the Azzurri of Italy. England didn't impress too much in their group, drawing with Portugal and just about squeaking over the line against Sweden and Turkey, for a seven-point total, but absolutely got themselves together for the knock-out rounds, with Mason Mount turning into a goal machine (six by the end, to be the tournament's top scorer). A semi-final against the Portuguese goes to penalties, but despite Jordan Henderson missing (again!), the English triumph 4-3 - while in the other semi, Italy defeat France 1-0.
Onto the final then, and with the score 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 with only ten minutes of extra time remaining, nerves are fraying. Enter Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin - no need for silly pretend names in this game - with the goal of his career, the goal of his life (almost certainly a scrappy back-post header), after which the bus is duly parked to win the trophy for the English. Harry Kane finally wins something, and the nation, surely, explodes with happiness. Could it happen? I mean, it's no less likely than Sweden winning the thing, is it? Is it?
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