| TAMED: England captain David Beckham, who missed a penalty in the quarter-finals, cuts a forlorn figure as the team bus (which had ‘Follow The Roaring Lions’ on its windows) leaves a Lisbon hotel for the airport on Friday
The curse of penalties struck England again last night, a painfully familiar frailty from 12 yards ending one of the most pulsating, memorable games in the history of tournament football. England will remember it with only bitterness, bracketing Lisbon 2004 along with Turin 1990, Wembley ’96 and St-Etienne ’98, datelines to haunt us forever.
Portugal’s winning kick came from their goalkeeper, Ricardo. The final scoreline read 8-7, following 2-2 after regulation and extra time (as reported in Friday’s Late City edition).
England are taking penalty embarrassment to a new low. One man should accept most culpability here and he is the captain, David Beckham, whose third successive aberration from the spot placed his teammates under so much pressure. Michael Owen, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Owen Hargreaves and Ashley Cole coolly converted theirs with an assurance patently lacking in Beckham’s effort, which matched Rui Costa’s mistake for inaccuracy. England’s seventh penalty-taker, Darius Vassell, placed his kick too close to Ricardo and the keeper himself then played the executioner.
This devastating denouement was heartbreaking for England, who had performed with relentless defiance, particularly the outstanding Lampard and Sol Campbell, although questions will legitimately be asked of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s strange decision to remove Steven Gerrard midway through the second half.
England will rue their ill fortune. For 80 minutes England had held on to Owen’s wonderful third-minute strike, riding even the injury sustained by Wayne Rooney, who broke a metatarsal bone in his right foot.
Even when Helder Postiga, Tottenham’s forgotten man, equalised, England could have won it in normal time. Although the linesman signalled Campbell’s header was a good goal, the controversial Urs Meier decreed a foul by Terry on Ricardo, so bringing extra time.
Rui Costa exploited a mistake by Phil Neville to score a wonder strike, seemingly the silver goal that would seal England’s fate. But England refused to surrender and Lampard equalised with five minutes left, turning and shooting home after a Beckham corner was headed back by Terry, so leading to the penalties that took Portugal to a June 30 semi-final and England on an awkward flight home.
The trail of tears flowing out of this tournament leads back to proud, established footballing nations like Germany and Spain, who did not reach the knock-out stage, and now the English. If the inquests will be more brutal in Berlin and Munich, Barcelona and Madrid, a period of introspection will still seize the English. Just when those mounting years of hurt appeared close to ending, the pain intensified.
Any rush to the lifeboats should be resisted. England must regroup and simply focus on winning the 2008 World Cup. Eriksson’s job is safe despite his removal of Gerrard. His generous employers, the Football Association, love him and want him to continue, partly because no obvious alternatives present themselves. Yet it could have been so different after Owen sliced through the hosts’ defence.
Possession fell to Owen fortuitously, courtesy of a dreadful back-header from Costinha which ignored the England No. 10’s willingness to make a run in the hope of a half-chance.
Costinha’s suicidal delivery dropped over his defence and invitingly for Owen, whose twisting leap would not have looked out of place at Sadler’s Wells. As he flew through the air, his body shaping to meet the ball, Owen stretched out a right foot and flicked the ball so deliberately, so sweetly over the onrushing Ricardo. Brilliant. Inspired. Inevitable.
Worryingly, England’s momentum slowed as Rooney suffered his injury. Chasing a long ball with Jorge Andrade, Rooney was accidentally caught by the Deportivo La Coruna defender.
Everton’s thoroughbred of a striker sought to struggle on but was clearly lame, bringing about his departure for the X-ray room and bringing Vassell into the fray. England had lost a player even before Rooney’s sad departure. Ledley King, the Tottenham centre-half, had flown home to be with his girlfriend, Stephanie, who had gone into labour prematurely. King would probably have come on after the break as England fought to stem the tide.
Cristiano Ronaldo kept sprinting at Cole, who stood firm. Luis Figo kept zig-zagging down the right. England’s midfielders were working flat out to protect their defence. Lampard and Gerrard were outstanding. Eriksson made changes to his midfield, removing Paul Scholes and then surprisingly Gerrard for Phil Neville and Hargreaves. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s subs were having more impact than Eriksson’s.
When Simao’s cross came over, Postiga beat Terry to head firmly past David James. Back came England, Owen heading Beckham’s free-kick against the bar. Campbell forced the ball over the line but Meier incensed England by punishing Terry and so forcing extra time. Rui Costa and Lampard then traded goals but England’s age-old vulnerability from 12 yards was eventually exposed.
Portugal (4-3-3): Ricardo; Miguel (Rui Costa 79), Ricardo Carvalho, Jorge Andrade, Nuno Valente; Costinha (Simao Sabrosa 63), Maniche, Deco; Luis Figo (Helder Postiga 75), Cristiano Ronaldo, Nuno Gomes.
England (4-4-2): David James; Gary Neville, John Terry, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole; David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard (Owen Hargeaves 81), Paul Scholes (Phil Neville 57); Wayne Rooney (Darius Vassell 27), Michael Owen.
Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland).