Campbell: 'The linesman walked back, thinking it was a goal'

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The Independent Football

Whether or not it was the death of his father last year that caused it, Sol Campbell has become something of a fatalist. His attitude to this tournament was to give everything, see what happened and accept it. What transpired, of course, was that in the 89th minute of the quarter-final against Portugal, he headed the ball against the crossbar, nodded in the rebound for what would have been the winning goal and saw the referee, Urs Meier of Switzerland, disallow it. Then England went out of the competition on penalties.

It would have been hard to take even had exactly the same thing not happened against Argentina at the World Cup six years earlier. So a philosophical attitude was perhaps the best way to ease the pain the morning afterwards. Only later was Arsenal and England's defensive rock prepared to acknowledge that there might have been something more to it all than the malign finger of fate.

"You can't say anything about going out on penalties, what can you do?" was Campbell's first reaction on Friday morning. "The lads have worked hard, the spirit's been fantastic, and it comes down to moments that don't go our way. I looked round and saw the linesman walking back, thinking it was a goal. Then the ref says no, when it was blatantly a goal. You can't do anything about it, some of these things are beyond our control. A lot of things didn't go our way, silly little fouls going against us."

Unfortunately, fouls on the goalkeeper or defenders, however silly or little, are always likely to be penalised at this level by Continental referees; even in Britain the days of burly centre-forwards knocking ball and keeper over the line and wheeling away to acclaim their goal are long gone. But probe a little deeper and, even if the party line from the dressing room is "we wuz robbed", Campbell is prepared to admit that in some ways the team did not help themselves.

"I don't think we underachieved. First half [against Portugal] we played really well, second half, for whatever reason, we could have retained the ball as a team. They just came at us, we had to defend the box and it was hard, because we'd done a lot of running and had one day less than Portugal [to recuperate]. Sometimes 1-0 up, as a team we didn't really go on. Portugal had a lot of possession, as they have most games they've played, and on the law of averages sooner or later one of those crosses or a powerful header is going to come off."

That surely goes to the heart of England's problems. Nor can it be denied that part of the trouble is the failure, in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, to pass the ball out from the back as opposed to humping it away. If Campbell, for all his physical power and lion-hearted spirit, has a fault, it is in that area.

He was not about to criticise John Terry alongside him, or anyone else - hence the repeated emphasis on doing things "as a team" - but his game is best served by having a passing player as a partner at the back. It will not be Ferdinand until late September at the earliest, by which time the first three internationals of the season will be over.

"Rio's a fantastic player, but John Terry played fantastic, too," Campbell says. "But if decisions don't go your way, it doesn't matter who's playing, what can you do? Sven [Goran Eriksson] went in to ask the referee what he thought and have a word, put his point of view. It was a shame that [Pierluigi] Collina couldn't have done our game. A lot of things didn't go our way, like Wayne Rooney coming off.

"It's tough being here, no one gives you points or games. We did fantastically well to come back from 2-1 down and take it to penalties. Then it comes down to the moments in the game that either go for you or against you. If you get to the semi-final, from there, who knows, anything can happen."

He trails off before finding something more positive to hang on to for the journey home and the summer holidays: "We'll get it out of our system after having a chat on the coach and plane. You've got to keep trying as long as you can go on, hope and pray the next game goes our way. The manager's fantastic and wants to take us further, and I want to go further. Sometimes you think you've played fantastically and still not won; that's happened twice to us here, against France and Portugal.

"But that's the beauty of football. You've got to keep going, keep performing and don't let it die on you. One of these days it'll come off."