WC2006: End of the road for England
In the World Cup of 1990, in Italy, we faced the Germans in the semi-final where it finished level at 1-1, only to lose as Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their penalty kicks. During the European Championships on home soil, we defeated the Spaniards 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw to go into the quarter-finals and face Germany, where it finished level at 1-1 and we lost 5-6 on penalties, Gareth Southgate missing his penalty kick. In the World Cup of 1998 in France, England were in the 2nd round against Argentina, where the game finished 2-2 and again went into penalties, where Paul Ince missed that made scores level but David Batty's miss at the end won the game for Argentina. In the 2004 European championships, we faced Portugal, where the tie ended emphatically 2-2. David Beckham slipped and missed his spot kick, Portugal keeper Ricardo Pereira was a hero in Lisbon by saving Darius Vassell's penalty then scoring the remaining one himself.
So we faced Portugal again in the quarter-finals of the World Cup of 2006. Christian Ronaldo was fit enough to play, and as I predicted Portugal had the 4-2-3-1 line up of players. England were 4-5-1 and endured yet again Wayne Rooney alone, isolated, chasing lost causes, overhit passes, long balls 40-50 yards away, surrounded like an island by Portuguese defenders who, like Ricardo Carvalho, were very good in stifling Rooney of space to turn or run. Owen Hargreaves played the holding role and played very well, on occasion he stopped Luis Figo and Ronaldo from going further, but it looked as if he was the only central figure in midfield. David Beckham appeared initially in the first half then disappeared, Frank Lampard hardy moved around, hardly a tackle from him, Steven Gerrard tried to mobilise himself often but found it difficult to find players in space, passes were overhit. Joe Cole tried to make openings down the left to no avail. At times we made moves towards Portugal's goal only to lack that pass, that shot, that 'killer instinct' in front of goal.
I can remember a freekick for Portugal from Figo was not dealt with, came off Gary Neville and bounced comfortably to Paul Robinson with Cardoso Tiago looming. Again we were vulnerable from a set-piece, no one dealt with the ball aerially. Ronaldo then Figo were allowed to come in from the left and take shots at the goal, dangerous defending. We broke forward and looked promising, only for it to end poorly. Beckham had not played well, a poor freekick and a poor corner, and he then took a knock in the second half and had to come off for Aaron Lennon. Beckham wept in the dug-out while his foot was treated, and that was a telling sign that things were not going right for us.
Rooney was closed down on the ball by Carvalho and Armando Petit. Despite the two challenges which connected with his leg than the ball, Rooney stayed up and battled for the ball, Carvalho at one point pulling Rooney's shirt. Rooney still stayed up and in frustration he stomped his left foot near Carvalho's groin area and the Chelsea defender winced. The referee was right on the spot to witness it all and blew for a freekick, and then Portuguese players came over to remonstrate. Ronaldo did so and clearly made words to indicate action should be taken against Rooney, for Rooney to react with a little shove on Ronaldo. The referee, Argentinian Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (don't groan), blew to calm order and pulled Rooney to the side to issue a red card. Now, this could not be given for the little shove, that would be a scandal.
I surmise that the referee did not take immediate action while monitoring Carvalho's injury but then decided to do so once it became clear friction would ensue from Rooney's shove. Nonetheless, I had to see from the replay the stomp because I wasn't convinced of any offence, and even then the referee should have blown for an England free-kick much earlier when Rooney was tapped twice on the leg while battling for the ball. Had those two contacts been on Ronaldo or Figo or any other Portugal player, that player would have gone down immediately, gaining a freekick.
Peter Crouch came on for Joe Cole, when it should have been Lampard coming off. Twenty four minutes of backs to the wall stuff as Portugal huffed and puffed, tried to shot without success, without accuracy. They then played the ball around the penalty box, looking for an opening, almost breaching the defence on two occasions but England held out. We were valiant as Portugal continued to probe, Hargreaves, Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon, Neville, Cole had to put in that extra percentage of energy as John Terry and Rio Ferdinand kept stalwart in defence. Robinson made two saves to keep the Portuguese out, and when the ball was cleared Crouch was there more times than not to hold up the ball and lay it off. We came agonisingly close to snatching victory but lacked that edge to shoot well on target.
But we kept out Portugal until the end of 120mins. It came down to penalties, once again, in the quarter-finals. Simao Sabrosa stepped up and scored well, Frank Lampard stepped up and Ricardo saved well. Hugo Viana stepped up and missed, Hargreaves stepped up and Ricardo almost saved it but it went in. Petit stepped up and missed, Gerrard stepped up and Ricardo saved. Helder Postiga stepped up and scored, Jamie Carragher stepped up and scored but had to re-take it as the referee had not blown. Carragher stepped up again and Ricardo saved. Ronaldo stepped up, he who had appealed to the referee for action against Rooney, he who was caught on camera pinching then nudging Rooney with his head from behind before the initial kick-off as Rooney talked with Pedro Pauleta. If he scored, England were out. He did.
I could not believe it, so promising albeit misfiring, is-performing yet we knew how they can play, we hoped they would give a big performance when it mattered, when it counted. They did in those 54mins after Rooney was sent off while we also wanted it with ten outfield men and in the Portugal half. We should have won because we battled to keep out a tricky, skilful, pacy side and it is difficult to pick apart a team with one man less. The Argentinians felt this eight years ago, we did it again yesterday. But I feel playing with ten men took its toll and the energy sapped from us, particularly Gerrard who at one point came out on attack but the ball was won back by Portugal, Gerrard walking back rather than sprinting to aid our defence.
The sending-off was a major body blow, the uppercut that catches well on the ribs and knocks some air out of you. England rallied and kept defence under the pain, blocking blow after blow to make it to the final bell. Had it been anyone else, it is questionable the potential of the damage caused, we would have taken one from midfield to replace and still have an option upfront in Rooney. But it was Rooney, our only attacking option. It is arguable we should have played with Crouch and Rooney together from the start and let Lampard and Gerrard sort out who goes and who stays. We should have taken the game in the first half and then with that cushion hit Portugal on the counter, difficult but effective and achievable with our players. But the curse of those penalties has occurred again. There is a new direction needed to make England that much of a better, more lethal side and I am not sure that even Steve McClaren can produce it.