| Wayne Rooney is shown the red card. (Reuters)
Gelsenkirchen, July 1: Shootouts have been a competitive disaster for England. Before the trip to Germany they had spelled knockout-stage defeats in two World Cups and two European Championships in the last 16 years.
Make that three World Cups.
Yet again England has fallen short when put on the spot. Presented with a golden opportunity to reach the World Cup semi-finals for only the third time, the old masters turned out still to be pupils in the art of scoring from 11 metres.
The faces of the players, after a defeat by Portugal following a goalless draw marred by the sending-off of Wayne Rooney, mirrored the despair of their fellow professionals from Switzerland in the previous round.
But this defeat meant even more than it did to the Swiss. The old mining hub of Gelsenkirchen in the industrial Ruhr buried the controversial five-year management of Sven-Goran Eriksson and possibly also the captaincy of David Beckham.
Portugal thus progresses to Munich and the semi-finals for the second time in its history. Ironically, its first semi, back in 1966, had seen it lose 2-1 to England. Revenge, even after a wait of 40 years, must have been sweet indeed for its No.1 fan and ringside spectator, the great Eusebio.
As colonial nations, England and Portugal once competed to open up the oceans and bring home the gold, India being one of the trophies. This time, too, the prize was gold, the World Cup statuette.
England was the more alert in the opening exchanges but Portugal’s more technical, possession game earned it an edge on points by the end of a goalless first half.
Apart from one drive by Frank Lampard, England created little and looked the more vulnerable.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson saved well from Cristiano Ronaldo after nine minutes, bravely from Pedro Pauleta two minutes later and then nimbly from Petit five minutes before the interval. Ronaldo and the evergreen Luis Figo also placed shots wide from reasonable range.
On at least three of those incidents, England had only itself to blame for loose play. Little wonder then that Eriksson preferred the security blanket of a five-man midfield even though this left Rooney abandoned in attack.
That frustration, perhaps, played its part when Rooney was sent off just after the hour for stamping on the groin of Ricardo Carvalho.
Rooney’s departure was a second blow for England after the earlier substitution of Beckham, nursing a damaged right leg, while fatigue, pressure and desperation forced open chinks at either end. Robinson saved well from Figo and substitute Hugo Viana, Ricardo likewise from a free kick by Lampard and a follow-up from Aaron Lennon.
The decisive penalty was finally clipped into the net by Ronaldo, a teammate of Rooney and who, of course and with most bitter irony, plays his football for Manchester United' in England.