Month: July 2008

Defence minister

Here in season 2020 of my Master League career on the PSP/PS2 version of PES2008, I’ve just won the league title with several games to spare. I’m in the Division 1 Cup final and the European Cup semi-final. The Treble is very much on.

After winning the Treble last year, I badly want to win it again this year. It’s only natural. For me, winning back-to-back Trebles would be the ultimate confirmation that I’ve mastered PES2008 in terms of its gameplay. I’ve won a few Trebles in the past in this career, but never consecutively. In PES4 and PES6 I was capable of winning back-to-back Trebles without much effort. I found those two PESes pretty easy overall, so it’d be a yardstick for PES2008 if I could replicate my achievements now.

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As well as the general goal of a Treble, I had two bonus targets: to navigate through to the end of the league season unbeaten, and concede less than 20 goals while doing so. For a long time this season, it looked as if I would succeed on both fronts. And then I stupidly let my newfound confidence get the better of me. I lost a game to Valencia, my long-standing divisional rivals.

That hurt, but at least I was keeping the goals-against column down to respectable levels. As I’m remarked previously, it seems a lot harder to stop the CPU from scoring goals in this version of the game than in any previous versions.

In PES5, for example, it was customary for me to concede around 10-15 goals per season. Here in PES2008, especially in the early seasons of this ML, I was shipping an average of 30 goals per season. I’ve complained to high heaven about the CPU apparently waltzing the ball into the net with my players either rendered immobile or ludicrously unable to put in a routine challenge (or challenges) to stop the attack. In other words, I was asserting that most of the goals scored against me were scripted.

Scripting is a serious topic for football game fans, and for PES fans in particular. If scripting is real, and if it’s as bad as we sometimes think it is, then what would be the point of playing any football game? Wouldn’t we be complete fools simply to press buttons whilst watching an interactive script unfold before our eyes? Yes, we would be complete fools.

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Wanting to concede less goals than normal is my own little way of challenging myself, and of testing the sturdiness of the alleged behind-the-scenes script. I wanted to see if it really was true that half the CPU goals were inevitable and unstoppable, or if it was just me not concentrating properly, being reckless, being too attack-minded—in short, defending badly.

It might be too early, but I’m pleased to report that the answer would seem to be that it was all my fault. This season so far I’ve conceded 12 goals. With three league games left, unless I suffer a compete catastrophe in a game or two, I think I’m going to meet my target. We’ll see.

None of which means that scripting per se isn’t true. Scripting in PES is very much true. It’s real and it’s annoying and it doesn’t belong in a mature, serious football game. In my opinion. All that my little mini-experiment with defending shows is that with concentration you can drastically cut the number of goals you concede. I’d still say that 75% of the goals I have conceded were predestined and frankly unstoppable.

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In league game 28 I actually lost another game—my second of the season. Real Zaragoza beat me 2-1. I was actually more bothered about conceding those two goals than I was about the defeat.

It was very like the 2-1 defeat I took from Valencia earlier this season. The same scoreline and pretty much the same reason for it—over-confidence bordering on arrogance from me. When you head out onto the virtual pitch assuming you have a right to win the game, a lot of the time it’ll work out for you—if you’ve got enough experience in the game to back up your belief. But when you’re at 1-1 and the CPU is plainly up for a fight, and you ignore all the warning signs and push on regardless, looking for a winner that the game is in no mood to let you have, well, that’s a mistake. Best to shut up shop, accept that the game is a draw, and see if you can’t snatch a cheeky winner on the break toward the end. That’s what I’ve done countless times already this season to great effect and it’s what I should have done on this occasion. But I didn’t.

Like I said, conceding two goals was the most hurtful side of it. That’s 14 goals against me all season. I should still make it to the end with less than 20 conceded, but it’s looking like being a lot closer than it could—and should—have been.

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Happily, in Europe there was better news. I met Lazio in the semi-final of the game’s Champions League equivalent. It’s the third or fourth time, in total, that Lazio and I have faced off in European competitions over the seasons. They beat me in a European Champioship final a few seasons ago. I’ve generally found them to be alarmingly tough opponents, almost on a par with my domestic nemesis Valencia.

On this occasion, though, Lazio were pussycats. I won the first leg 1-2 at their place. With those two away goals to my name, I regarded the second leg as pretty much a formality—a dangerous thing to do, yes, but I got away with it. I won that second leg by the mammoth scoreline of 6-1. The only dowside was conceding that solitary goal, but that was near the end when the game was over anyway.

All of which leaves me having to win just the two Cup finals to win the Treble. My second Treble in a row, hopefully. And I have to try not to concede another 6 goals in my remaining three league games. I think I am going to do it on all fronts.

Thank you Vieri much

My Division 1 Cup semi-final opponents were Real Madrid. They’d held me to a 0-0 at home in the first leg, but in the second leg I beat them 0-2 at their place. Their phenomenal player, Kaiser, was not on the pitch. If he wasn’t 28 years old in my ML right now, I’d be making it my priority to get Kaiser in the next transfer window. I’ve seen him turn in some truly stunning performances. As it stands I think I’ll maybe pick him up as a Regen after he retires. That could be as long as 12 seasons away—I’ll wait.

In league game 24 I fought out a tough 0-0 draw against Heracles Almelo. It was a blatantly scripted shut-out on the CPU’s part. Possession for me that should have led to goal-scoring chances simply didn’t; goal-scoring chances for me that should have led to goals simply didn’t. One of those games. Chalk it up to PES experience, and move on.

In game 25 I beat Real Mallorca 2-0 to set up game 26. If I won this one, I’d won the League Championship.

The game was against Espanyol, which slightly set the alarm bells ringing. Espanyol are just one of those teams (along with Heracles Almelo and quite a few others) who can often present a stubborn obstacle for no particular reason.

And things did not start well. Vieri was playing as my central CF instead of the fatigued Schwarz. He’s been pretty good for me, has Vieri—whisper it, but at times I think he out-Schwarzes Schwarz. I had no qualms about playing him in such a big game, and was confident his strength would be worth at least one goal up front.

But I had Vieri sent off in the 5th minute. It was for a completely innocuous-seeming tackle in the opposition half of the pitch. As the referee was going through his animation I knew that the card coming out of his pocket would be a red one. It was the kind of foul that’s always worth a yellow card, but seems to get a red card whenever the script wants to make a big game just that little bit harder for you. I went to a 4-3-2 formation and prepared to work hard…

Amazingly, with 10 men, I went on to deliver my best-ever performance whilst short-handed. Giggs is newly-reinstalled back in the AMF slot. He scored a dazzling hat-trick, bursting through from the wing twice, and heading in from a Camacho cross for the third. Burdner, on as a late sub, got the odd goal in a 4-0 win.

And that was the title won. The first and most important element of the Treble has fallen into place.

It’s come early this year. There are still four league games left in the season. I haven’t even played the European Cup semi-final yet. Speaking of which… the first leg of the semi-final is my next fixture, and my opponents are Lazio. A few seasons ago I met them in the final and they were immense, and they beat me; I met them in the final the following season as well and they were curiously lightweight by comparison, and I beat them. The fate of the Treble will be largely decided by which version of Lazio turns up for the semi-final

The Return of the Kim

My opponents in the quarter-final of the European Cup were Barcelona. In between the two legs of that tie, I played a crunch league game against Real Madrid. In most Master Leagues these three games taken together would have been among the hardest that I could ever (not) wish to have. But in this Master League, the fates have decreed that both Barca and Real are fairly average teams by the usual standards. They’re both still pretty good, but they’re nowhere near being the uber-opponents that they should be. It’s just the way things have gone.

At times I regret setting up this Master League in such haste back on March 1st. I do kind of wish I’d taken more time and at least included the English teams in a custom super-hard league. As much as I love my faux-Spanish league setup, I do miss playing against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. It would have been nice to at least have the possibility of meeting them in European competition. Back in March, I was pretty tired of the English teams after incessantly playing them (and effortlessly dribbling around them) on the version-that-must-not-be-named of PES2008. When I cracked open my PSP copy and set up an all-new Master League, I fancied a change.

Before the first leg of the European game against Barcelona, I implemented a change to my First XI that’s been in the wind for some time. Since I dropped the promising Kim Cyun Hi from my starting line-up a season or two ago, he’s been superb when filling in for Giggs up front on the left. This is despite Kim’s natural footedness being very much on the right.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that players can be as good (or even better) on their ‘wrong’ side in PES. Back in PES5, I played Bergkamp on his ‘wrong’ side, with staggering results. Kim Cyun Hi may be the same kind of player who’ll truly flourish for me on the ‘wrong’ side of the pitch. He was only ever competent for me in the middle and over on the right, not brilliant. I’m hoping he can be brilliant now he’s back in the regular first team.

All of which means that a place must be found for the mesmeric Giggs. In amongst all my good players, I only have about four or five gold-plated, undeniably brilliant players—Giggs is one of them. I decided to switch him back to the left-sided AMF role. He’s slightly more of a natural midfielder than he is a WF or CF. And he’s a better AMF than Burdner, who has been curiously anonymous for me so far. In PES6, Burdner was a star midfielder for me. Not so here. Not yet.

I’ve decided to stick with my 4-3-3, despite being strongly persuaded that an alternative formation might serve me better. The arguments for a 4-1-4-1, or a 4-2-4—or even my own demented brainchild, a 3-3-4—are variously compelling. But what can I say? I play PES every day, with hypnotic fervour, for a reason—it gives me more or less the same experience, day in, day out. I’m like a child who has to be told the same story in the same way, word for word, every day. Any departure is a cause for distress.

4-3-3 is an intrinsic part of my PES experience. I don’t know if I could stomach switching my main starting formation from my beloved, and familiar, 4-3-3. But never say never. The most I could do is to design an alternate formation and map it to a strategy button, and use it on the fly at selected moments in-game. I might do that in the off-season, when things are a mite less hectic.

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I won both legs of the Euro Cup tie against Barcelona 2-0 and it was pretty easy. I was barely challenged at all, which is actually quite rare for the latter stages of the Cups, I’ve found—even against an ‘average’ Barcelona. Or have I finally ‘aced’ PES2008, and will this be the norm for me from now on? I hope not. I still get enough awkward moments every season for me to know that the game still has a few nasty tricks up its virtual sleeve. Admittedly these tricks now can only come in the form of God Mode, a.k.a. good old scripting.

So that was me through to the semi-final of the European Cup. In the league game that formed the meat in the sandwich, I absolutely thumped Real Madrid 4-0.

Real Madrid are a mid-table team this year, and it shows. Their one bright spark is the almost peerless Kaiser, who usually torments me all game, but on this occasion he wasn’t playing.

So now I’m 13 points clear with 7 league games to go. Feasibly, I could have the title wrapped up with 4 games to go. I’d like that.

The man-mark of a man

Almeria are back in Division 1 of my Master League. I have to be careful when talking about them, as I tend to confuse them with Heracles Almelo, and swap their names around (i.e., ‘Heracles Almeria’, etc.). As much as I’m looking forward to this year’s brace of football games, beginning with FIFA09 in September and then PES2009 in October, I’ll be sorry to leave PES2008 and this particular Master League behind. I’ve had some great games in it and would count it as possibly my second-favourite ML career ever (PES5 would be #1).

But I don’t necessarily have to abandon it in Septemeber/October, of course. There’s always the PSP. I could easily continue this ML career on the PSP forever, in tandem with whatever I get up to on FIFA09/PES2009. It’s a possibility.

So, anyway, Almeria: they’re a bottom-of-the-league team this season, which naturally means they’re tougher to play against than Real Madrid and Baracelona combined. This is no lazy exaggeration, as my fellow ML players will know all too well. I couldn’t pass, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t shoot.

Almeria, with a relative handful of wins and goals to their name all season, were faster, stronger, and more skilful. They took the lead with a penalty after ten minutes. It was a rash challenge from my defender. I was too anxious to protect Cech, my new, raw, 17-year-old goalkeeper, whom I’d picked for this game just to give him some experience and start to build his teamwork rating. I felt it was worth the risk now that I haven’t got an unbeaten record to protect.

But I have still got another bonus target to aim for: conceding less than 20 goals in the league. At this stage, just after halfway, I’ve only conceded 9 goals all season. I’ve got a great chance of doing it.

When the Almeria player broke through I had no confidence in Cech stopping the goal, and I clumsily barged their player off the ball with my defender. The referee immediately gave the penalty. I was expecting a red card for the last-man challenge, but I didn’t even get a yellow. That was something, I suppose. Almeria scored the penalty and I was really up against it.

The game got to the 80th minute and it was still 0-1 to them. It looked like being another ignominious defeat. I was depressed about it. The league title was still probably safe, but after going unbeaten for so long it just felt so lame to lose a couple of games in quick succession like this. Ah, but then Andy Cole—having a quiet season, overall—popped up to score a stylish equaliser:

For anyone unable or unwilling to view the replay, I’ll describe the goal (I find embedded YouTube videos just a bit tiresome too…). Andy Cole, playing on the right up front, lays the ball off to Bradley and starts a run forward. Bradley dinks the ball over the top for Cole to chase. Still about 25 yards out, Cole takes the shot on the half-volley with a delicious scissors-kick. The ball flashes over the keeper’s head into the net. 1-1, and I had to be satisfied with that.

I won the final game of my European Championship qualifying group and finished in first place. My reward? A quarter-final tie against Barcelona. It shouldn’t be too tough, but I’d still have preferred one of the lesser teams.

In the first leg of the D1 Cup semi-final I played Real Madrid—an extremely fast and aggressive and skilful Real Madrid... Kaiser was magnificent for them, dominating play and going on runs for the hell of it. Within the first 15 minutes he’d created four clear-cut chances, two of which came back off my goal’s woodwork.

I sensed danger, somehow… I went into the Formation screen and did something I rarely do. I put a man-marker on Kaiser. I rarely see the point in man-marking, but on this occasion it seemed to work. Bradley was my chosen man and he reduced Kaiser’s effectiveness almost immediately. The game ended 0-0. The second leg will be at their ground.