Painfully aware of the fact that the world cup is now a luxury that I cannot afford, but indulge in anyway, I began my journey. The first part was a lonely one as Ektoras and George were flying to London and there were no other Greeks. I did however meet Thorsten in Frankfurt, and he bought me a coffee because as he said he owned me one after all the mistakes he made when posting German tournament results.
By some amazing coincidence, probably because we had booked early, we were seated next to each other on the plane and spent the 90 minutes talking about Kick Off in an otherwise quiet flight. I'm sure we managed to confuse the hell out of the passengers who kept hearing about goals, tournaments, cups from two people who didn't really look like professional athletes. We arrived at Birmingham and I was gutted when I collected a broken suitcase - luckily I had my joystick in my hand luggage. We met Peter (K) and called the taxi service that Steve had kindly booked for us. I really like it when someone attends a world cup for the first time in his home country and likes the experience so much he decides to travel abroad a year later. So many people promise to do it but few deliver. Our conversations then inevitably shifted to Greek economy, the guys were curious to hear my point of view on the situation. I was a bit apprehensive about this before I left because I didn't know how people would receive me, I'm honestly ashamed that my country is on foreign news all the time for the wrong reasons. But everyone I talked to during the weekend was very considerate about this.
Peter: How do you feel that foreigners are telling you how to run your country?
Alkis: I'm happy about it. We sure as hell can't run ourselves.
Peter: Most people in Greece don't seem to agree with you.
Alkis: Most people in Greece are idiots. I'd welcome a German prime minister at this point.
Thorsten: You can have her.
We were a bit unsure as to where exactly we were supposed to wait for the taxi. I decided to consult another driver, although his English was worse than mine he correctly pointed me to the parking lot. The taxi arrived a few minutes later, the driver was quite a nice guy and we all had a long chat where we explained the reason for our visit ("Is it on Spectrum?") and talked about football in general. We arrived at the hotel and as always greeted by one familiar face after another. I knew almost everyone there but I didn't know Andy, and he surprised me by saying "I'm a Cypriot" in fluent Greek! He explained to me that both his parents are from Cyprus, which he visits every year. He is a very nice guy and I'm glad I met him. It was also great meeting Dr. Wayne's family, Aom and Anson (surely misspelled, sorry).
That Friday night moment when you meet friends you haven't seen for a year and get a bunch of friendly handshakes and hugs is one of my favorites of the world cup experience. My old acquaintances Helmut and Klaus, my Italian brother Gianni, Cornelius with his big cartoon smile, the Screecher with that awesome son of his, Don Rodolfo, that gentleman Durban, the Lo-Lo's, the Jo-Jo's, King Simon, Evil and Gaz and so many others. I always find it amazing that there are so many people in the KOA, a seemingly random group of blokes, who I would gladly invite to my house every weekend if we all lived nearby. The draw was spectacular thanks to the careful planning of the organizers and Steve's quality video editing skills.
Our very long walk to the pub restaurant included an uninvited guest: rain! Being the tough dudes that we are we endured the torture without complaining. And the food was totally worth the trouble even though the loud music was kind of a bummer because we couldn't have group conversations. By the way I'm glad that Simon had everyone's choice on a list because I couldn't understand his way or pronouncing 'tiramisu' in a hundred years. Rodolfo, Robert and I had a special gift for Steve Camber in order for all of us to celebrate our WC attendance.Saturday
A full day of Kick Off (16 matches) was about to begin. The tournament room was perfect for the purpose and I started by playing a few friendlies. I reminded myself of my three main goals in this tournament: Make it to my 10th quarter final in 10 WCs, win my 4th Best Defense trophy and reach 100 undefeated games in England. Out of my 8 opponents in my Round 1 group only one had managed to beat me in the past and I was playing him first!Alkis P Vs Mark W: 10-1, 6-0
It had been years since I last played durban, always a pleasure.
Alkis P Vs Wayne L: 10-0, 6-4
Alkis: Mark, why are you all the way to the edge of the table? Move closer.
Mark: Oh good! We'll cuddle!
I didn't have many problems in our first match, but in the rematch Wayne managed to get these lethal shots he loves and he gave me a really hard time. By the way Hong Kong colors look much better on him than the English shirt.
Alkis P Vs Steve C 7-2, 7-1
Alkis: Good game Wayne, here's your "I lost to my friend Alkis" autograph and come take a picture with me.
Wayne: I don't know how you sleep at night, Alkis.
Apparently I forgot to take a picture after my game with Camber! What a pity. A man I've lost points to before, I knew how much he enjoys the up/down play so I won our games by taking the action to the sides of the pitch.Alkis P Vs Michael Ma: 12-1, 9-1
I kept hearing about Michael's improvement before the tournament so I didn't want to take any chances, I gave him my best.Alkis P Vs Peter S: 9-0, 14-2
Our second match was the most interesting one. Wolf sat next to us demanding some double figures, he offered to buy me a beer if managed to score 10 goals and two beers if I managed to score 15! As you can see I had to settle for one. I hope I didn't open a dangerous can of worms by accepting compensation for a Kick Off match. Come to think of it, if we make a habit out of offering beers to the winners it won't be long before we see a German world champion!Alkis P Vs Frederic B: 4-5, 9-1
The horror! Alas, my undefeated streak in England stopped at 92 as it came to end by a player who had given me trouble in Dusseldorf but apparently I didn't learn my lesson. Robert noticed me struggling a couple of minutes before the end and came to offer loud support to the German. I managed to equalize a few seconds before the end only to concede one more on injury time. Well played by Frederic, a totally deserved win that broke many records of mine: My first defeat on English soil, the first German who ever beat me and only the 4th person who beat me during a WC Saturday (after George K, Nikos and Giacomo).
Alkis P Vs Graham S: 8-0, 11-0
Frederic: My mother told me never to play against players who had a goal named after them.
Graham and I had a friendly chat during our games, very nice bloke.Alkis P Vs Garry C: 6-3, 6-3
At this rate, it won't be long before Garry manages to beat me. His regular practice has turned him into a player who rarely makes mistakes and his final position in this world cup is totally justified.
So these were my Saturday matches. Apart from one game I believe I played rather well and I was satisfied with my form. As I finished relatively early, I decided to go to my room for a breather and I amazingly found the corridor full of strippers! OK perhaps strippers is not the right word, they were dressed like Las Vegas showgirls (slutty ones, though) / Rio de Janeiro carnival queens, you get the idea. Lots of feathers, fishnet stockings, tiny shorts. In the middle of the afternoon! The first thing that crossed my mind was that I needed someone else to see them because otherwise nobody would believe me. So I ran and got Durban, who explained to me that it was a 'hen party' and they were dressed according to the custom. Fancy that... By the way several English told me afterwards that although this sight was not very common in the rest of the country, it was typical for Birmingham. Not sure how accurate this information is. Sorry no pictures, I was too shy to even ask (Ektoras wasn't, but they declined).
After recovering from the shock, I went for a short walk to a convenience store nearby (we NEED Cherry Coke in Greece) and ran into Donna and her daughter, Phoebe the star. Infants were everywhere in this world cup, such a beautiful sight.
Jon (to his one year old son): This is Alkis. He's had a bad day because he just lost his first match in England ever.
Round 2 draw put the two Greeks in my group, something that horrified me as I knew they could both beat me. Little did I know at the time that Ektoras was going to save my world cup. But more on that tomorrow. Well done to the Birmingham organizers for their idea of having two groups of 8 instead of four groups of four in Round 2, it made the process so much more interesting but before. But shame on the muppet who wanted a Round 2 draw (me). I still think it was a good idea had we stuck with the four groups but it was absolutely unnecessary in this year's case as nobody can intentionally select opponents with this format, the groups change all the time. The way we did it, the four qualified players of Groups C and the ones of Group D ended up playing together again, something that practically nullified their Saturday efforts. Luckily, the Silver Groups did not have such an incident but we obviously can't leave this to chance. So for next year I'm going to advocate keeping the two groups of 8, but have a predetermined route instead of a draw that will ensure that no more than two players from R1 will end up in the same R2 group. I accept responsibility for this year's hiccup.
At this point I would like to express my gratitude to the score inputters for their patient and invaluable help: Steve E's sister Sandra, Garry's daughter Hannah, Simon's sister Claire and Steve S' son Cameron. I hope I got all names right.
We went bowling on Saturday evening (thankfully no rain this time), and I was as crap as last year. Our team would have done better had it not been for Garry's organizer abuse: He transfered Sid from my team a minute before we started, and he ended up having the best score of all! By the way there were also some youngsters dressed in costumes there, what was that about? I guess costumes are very popular in Birmingham.
My evening ended with Camber, durban and Rodolfo having dinner at Subway. Foot-long sandwiches rule.Sunday
After breakfast with the Butt brothers, I took a look at my group and marveled at how difficult it was. I couldn't see a certain victory on sight. I then told some people that the semi-finals would probably be Gianni + three players from my group, and it turned out I was right. I didn't believe anyone would manage to win this undefeated so I was determined to keep trying for first place no matter how many points I drop.Alkis P Vs Steve E: 5-3
A very close game against an opponent who keeps improving his game every year. This good start did my confidence some good.George Ka Vs Alkis P: 0-6
The best keyboard player in the world was underperforming in this world cup and I took the opportunity for an easy win, I don't get many of those against him any more.Alkis P Vs Oliver St: 4-4
First point Oliver gets against me, and if anyone should be disappointed about this result it should be him as he missed a great chance to lead by 4-2 before I equalized in the counter attack. I then took the lead again but he scored one of his spectacular Stender-goal before the end for a well deserved draw.Steve C Vs Alkis P: 1-7
Steve again, and by that point it had become obvious that he was not in his best form.Alkis P Vs Lorenzo C: 3-7
Gianni called him Darth Vader, as in someone who changed his name and joined the dark side. I have a different Sci-Fi reference not just for him, but for all the Italian players: They are THE BORG. You remember how the Borg are initially killed by a shot of phaser but then become invulnerable to it as they quickly adapt? That's the way it is with the Italians. I finally figured it out, that is why most of them play poorly in their first year and then become amazing. I played a friendly against Lorenzo on Saturday and beat him too easily. On Sunday, he had adapted.
I predict that next year a new Italian player will be at the world cup, named Giuseppe Patatino.
His joystick will look like this:
He will avoid being in the Game of Shame at the last instant. Then in WC2013 he will beat me in the semi-final.
The only thing that the Italians don't resemble to Borg is that the bastards refuse to assimilate me.Andy G Vs Alkis P: 4-8
The Cypriot who poses as an English is a great player, and the scoreline in that game was rather flattering for me. I think nobody got more than a single goal of difference before the final two minutes. At that point it looked like his qualification to the next round was in serious danger.Alkis P Vs Ektoras K 8-3
I needed those three points in order to retain my chances for 1st place. Nowadays, my games against Ektoras are usually close but not this one.
I know people were looking at the standings on Sunday and always saw me 1st, so they didn't realize that this was only because I played my games faster than Lorenzo did. The truth is that after his win against me we both had a loss and a draw, so I needed someone to take points off him otherwise it would just mean another semi-final against Gianni again. So I gave Ektoras a very loud support in their match. He played fantastically and managed to scrape a 6-5 win. Needless to say, I was grateful to him! In the final game of the round he was playing Andy. If he'd won that match he would have finished 2nd in the group and Andy would be out! He took the lead by 3-1 but Andy managed a titanic comeback (3-5).
If George was sad for his disqualification, it all went away after he videochatted with his wife and newly born son.
I then realized there were FIVE English in the quarter finals, the first country to manage that record! They'd never managed more than two in the past, and that was 6 years ago. One could claim that they benefited from the absence of players such as Dagh or Spyros to do it, but it should be noted that they left behind people who had managed to be there recently, such as Ektoras, Oliver, Frank, George and their compatriot Steve Camber. So this achievement was impressive, and even more impressive is the fact that the person who three out of the last 4 UK Champs was not among them!Alkis P Vs Robert S: 6-1, 6-2
A quarter final against Robert then, a repetition of 2005. Although I usually beat Robert by dominating possession, this matchup was different. We had about an even number of chances in these games, I just managed to convert more.
Alkis (before the first match, to Simon Butt): Don't sit so close behind me, move further back.
Simon: I'm going to breath down your neck Alkis.
Alkis: Please don't give me a hard on.
I took a peek at the stats at that point, and noted that I'd have to concede a shitload of goals on the big screen to not get that Best Defense trophy. But I reckoned I would.Alkis P Vs Andy G: 5-8, 8-4
Before the semis, Robert and Simon Butt went out of their way to make sure that I realize that the crowd would not only be cheering for Andy, they'd be cheering against me too.
What can I say about these games? After watching them on video, I have to admit that Andy played a little bit better over the two matches and perhaps deserved to be in the final. He totally dominated the first game and the three goals of difference seemed intimidating. I needed a very good start in the second game in order to put some pressure on him, after all it was only his second big screen match while it was number 23 for me. I also needed lots of luck. I believe I got both. I was screaming like an idiot after the game, Andy is tall and very built but I had such momentum when I jumped into his arms that he had to stagger backward to keep from falling down. I was so happy to be in a final again, I've wanted to make it to one for so many years, and I'd get to do it in front of the great Steve Screech too, wearing his glorious shirt. I'm sure Andy will get his chance, in fact I bet that next year he will be much better than me. And as Robert put it, he was the first (pseudo)English ever to beat me in England.Alkis P Vs Gianni T: 1-9, 4-8
Was there really anyone in the KOA who didn't already know that Gianni is a much better player than I am? In fact he even took it easy on me and refused to score a 10th goal. I need him to play at 40%-50% of his true ability to have a chance against him, like our game in Athens last April. When he's at his 100% like in the final, he is alone on the pitch; it's just him and Fisher, I can't get anywhere near the ball. I'm happy for him, but also happy for my 2nd place which was really all I could hope for. There have been 11 world cup finals and only three of them didn't have either me or Gianni, and yet this was our first one against each other. There's a reason for this; he usually knocks me out before it! I guess I could take up online gaming, try to improve my skills. But I won't be making any more sacrifices to the World Cup shield, it's too cruel a God for me to worship anymore.
The ending ceremony was nice but again, no girls FFS... My only complaint in an otherwise flawless organization. In a speech that they will never hear, I dedicated the silver medal to my Athenian friends who wanted to be there and couldn't.
Sunday evening at TGIF, and then the hateful goodbyes... Well not for all of us as I went to the casino with Peter, Jorn, Robert and Ms +1.Monday
Jorn and I were supposed to get a ride that Steve E had arranged, instead we ended up in a different one who lied and pirated us! We spend an hour at the airport before he took off. All flights were leaving on time except mine, what was that about? It turned out that there was fog above Munich. My flight from Birmingham was delayed by two hours and the layover was only one, so I missed the flight to Athens. They booked me at a later one late at night, so I spent the evening watching Star Trek episodes at the airport.
Usually a man is not happy to find his wife with his best friend after he returns from a trip. However, it was a lovely surprise that they waited for me at the airport to congratulate me for my performance and give me ride home! A perfect finale to a lovely trip.
Thank you everyone, and hope to see most of you next year.