The season’s biggest game was upon me. Here in 2016, it’s about time I won a Treble—League, Cup, European Cup— and put the matter to rest once and for all. It’s a few seasons overdue. I think that in previous years I’d won a Treble by about 2014 at the latest. Maybe 2015 at a pinch.
I don’t think PES2008 (the PS2/PSP version) is a particularly hard PES. In some ways it’s among the easiest. But I did spend the first three months of this PES year on the PlayStation3 version. When I jumped ship to the so-called ‘last-gen’ version it took me some time to adapt to the classic gameplay style, which I’d clean forgotten after all the weeks of arcadey dribbling and regular cricket scorelines.
I’m absolutely flying in the two Cups. In the European Cup quarter-final I disposed of AC Milan with suspicious ease. After a 0-1 win away from home against Zaragoza in the first leg of the Division 1 Cup quarter-final, I’m nicely poised to go through to semi-final, although I’ll have to be careful in the return leg. So I’m not worried about the Cups.
But I think the League might now be beyond me. Even if PES itself, with all of its wondrous macro-scripting, does me a huge favour and makes Valencia drop points for fun, it’d be hard to overcome some of the extremely determined CPU teams that I’m playing week in, week out.
For example, just prior to the Valencia game I played Almela – Almela! – and I took an early lead. I was all over them, dominating possession, launching raid after raid on their goal. Try as I might I couldn’t score again—and of course they equalised with a few minutes left. I couldn’t get a winner in the last seconds. It was an expensive draw that left me 10 points behind the leaders with just eight games left.
Next up was Valencia themselves. Now this was really do or die. Win this game, and the deficit would be reduced to 7 points.
It was a strange game. I felt cheated. Yes, that’s a familiar refrain from me on this blog, but I’ve got to report what is actually happening to me out there and what I’m actually thinking and feeling about it, day by day, otherwise there’d be no point.
I took the lead and although I wasn’t exactly comfortable, I wasn’t struggling either. As I have mentioned before, Valencia are the best CPU team in the division by some distance. Barca and Real don’t even come close. It’s just one of the quirks of this Master League setup, I suppose. In ten seasons’ time, who knows how the land will lie? Things might be different in the future, but for now Valencia are the team to beat.
I resisted the inevitable onslaught, defending superbly—if I may say so myself. I haven’t mentioned him specifically for a long, long time, but Maldini is easily the best defender I have ever played with in PES2008, and arguably in PES full stop. He’s 25 now and fully developed. He’s effortlessly commanding in the air and accomplished on the ground. The only times he lets me down are for the CPU’s automatic goal corners, when he mysteriously finds his boots glued to the turf at just the wrong moment. However, all of my defenders suffer from that mystery ailment. So I can’t hold it against Maldini.
It was Maldini who was rooted to the spot—nailed to the ground!—when a Valencia corner came over in the 60th minute of the game. Their striker seemed to put his head through Maldini’s chest to nod the ball into the net. Great. I love it when that happens.
There was plenty of time left for me to get the winner. Anyway, by this stage I’m so used to the CPU teams automatically getting a goal at some point that I almost don’t notice it. I’d always assumed I’d need at least two goals to win this game, and so it proved.
When my second goal came, it was accompanied by a SHOUT. From me. I was glad I was nowhere out in public when this beauty went in:
Yes, it’s a PSP replay, taken with my mobile phone—the quality is thus doubly lacking. My apologies for that, but the essence of the goal can still be made out. It’s the furthest-out I’ve ever scored from, I think, in any PES. Bursting from his own half, Bradley—who else?!—shimmies past a couple of defenders. That was so unusual for me (I usually never dribble) that I thought I’d better try to cap it with a shot, from a thousand yards out or wherever I was. Here’s another view from pitch-level:
What I love about the goal isn’t just the distance of the strike. It’s the placement. It flies right into the postage-stamp corner, and the goalkeeper goes through that whole David Seaman-style ‘hopeless flapping’ animation (sorry, Dave, if you’re reading this. Nice hair, though).
It was the 75th minute. I think I was entitled to regard that goal as the winning goal. Right? Right? No, of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.
A few minutes later, Valencia had their equaliser; a few minutes after that, they scored again, through an own-goal from me—another ricocheting monstrosity that I could do nothing to prevent. I was 2-3 down in the 90th minute when I kicked off and just ran the ball forward with Giggs…
I was angry. More than angry, I WAS FURIOUS. This isn’t a game, I was thinking. It really is just a partly-interactive script. Seabass can go and…
I floated a cross over with Giggs. Andy Cole, on as a substitute in place of the disappointing Kim Cyun Hi (who’s just not doing it for me out there on the right), nodded the ball into the net. Moments later, the final whistle blew. 3-3 was the final score.
Ridiculous, frustrating, and insulting. That was my overall feeling about the game. Yes, I’d loved the 50-yard goal from Bradley—that should really have been the winner. It’s the kind of goal I love to score in PES more than any other kind of goal, and I’ll spend the rest of the year trying to replicate or exceed it. But yet again I found myself having to save the game, switch it off, and go and lie down in a darkened room…
As of now I am officially declaring the League title race over. It’s Valencia’s crown. I’ll be focusing my efforts now on finishing second and avoiding qualification for Europe next season. Damn stupid game.