Ronaldo inflicts the final hurt with a flourish

England are forced to pay for missed chances and penalties as Rooney strays again
Click to follow
The Independent Football

They still refer to this former mining and steel area as "the city of a thousand furnaces". Here, yesterday, the fires of England's expectation which had burned well into the evening were finally doused. All that remained were smouldering recriminations at part of Portugal's approach to this contest, and reflections of what could have been, had Wayne Rooney not transgressed, had England not spurned opportunities with the abandon of a balloonist ditching sandbags, and, ultimately, had Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher not suffered that age-old English disease, that of being absolutely incapable of placing a football between two posts guarded by a man - in this case named Ricardo - from 12 yards.

England were again undone by that dreaded finale, a penalty shoot-out, and as if to stamp the final piece of humiliation on Sven Goran Eriksson and his men, the final act came from Cristiano Ronaldo, the kind of player who at school would have pulled his fellow pupils' hair and then ran away, claiming "it wasn't me, sir". Far too handsome for his own good, and extravagantly talented, he possesses that superior air which is just asking to be knocked out of him. Few succeed, by fair means or foul. The merest brush has him appealing for justice. Significantly, he was involved in Rooney's sending-off. For the Manchester United winger then to score the final penalty was hard to bear.

As someone once said, "there's some people on the pitch, they think it's all over", and somehow it always is when Luiz Felipe Scolari confronts Eriksson, the sight of the former's moustachioed features dominating the celebratory scenes. Not for him is this a time to retire gracefully, and allow his players their moment. "Big Phil", the man with a thousand epithets and as many variations on his tactical themes, had been sceptical all week about "Nco ha duas sem trjs" - Things always happen in threes. Yet, for the third successive major tournament, the Brazilian had charge of a team in a quarter-final with Eriksson as his rival, and again emerged the victor.

The Swede departs the England scene, not as many of us had anticipated, ignominiously. Not on this occasion, anyway. Some of his team were exceptional. If they are handing out the medals for outstanding national service, they should be shared among the rearguard and Owen Hargreaves, who in the course of one tournament not only made fools of those who doubted him, but ended yesterday as the sole successful England penalty-taker and man of the match. If Eriksson's men had, by some miracle, prevailed, the fact that they had even reached that stage would have been attributable to the Hargreaves engine which enabled him to cover, challenge and distribute with awareness.

From outside the England camp it always appeared that there had been rather too much rhetoric from too many connected with the set-up; they were still two games from the final and already there were declarations that this was a "date with destiny".

Just as perturbingly, it was announced that Rooney could win this confrontation single-handed. As for the Scouser himself, his heavily-bristled appearance increased the speculation that he is, indeed, hurled cow pie for his supper. Though if there is anyone desperate within this set-up it is Eriksson, who continued to ask the Manchester United man to be a lone target when his body language screams out that he desires a support role. The high balls lofted to him were invariably wasted, and increasingly, he retreated in search of the ball. Yet, even in an alien position, he continued to worry the opposition into errors.

Scolari was troubled by England's momentum. Towards the quarter hour he appeared on the touchline and was spoken to by the referee. Strangely, it provoked chants of: "You'll never manage England", and the usual attendant profundities, which was a curious one, as he could have been Eriksson's successor.Can those who condemned the World Cup winner yesterday really be gratified that instead the new man is Eriksson's No.2?

Rooney's second-half dismissal could, and should, have meant elimination in normal and extra-time by dint of sheer fatigue alone. Yet in adversity Eriksson's team discovered some of their most impressive football yet, and if ever a display merited a triumph on the basis of guts and stickability, this was it. The defence repelled Portugal, the midfield continued to create opportunities and as for substitute Peter Crouch, he was always a danger as his big, awkward self.

But what does an Eriksson-less future herald for David Beckham? The spectacle of the captain trudging to the bench, six minutes after the interval, followed by that of him in tears as he clutched an injured knee, is not what we expect to witness at this level. But his removal at least gave Aaron Lennon the opportunity to exploit deficiencies in the Portugal rearguard.

Yet, even as England began to dominate, an even worse spectacle from Eriksson's perspective was the dismissal of Rooney, who first trampled on that most sensitive area of Ricardo Carvalho's prone body, then shoved Ronaldo, who had rushed to remonstrate. It meant there was work to be done by the England coach, who may just have suspected, as even his fiercest critics here had done, that his team were finally demonstrating that they are actually capable of living with the world's best.

That may appear a strange observation, but in this World Cup bubble, which we inhabit here, England's progress has been little more than an afterthought, until yesterday. The country with the players who had most under-performed and attracted the most boorish and despised followers, were merely the subject of an amusing aside to followers of Brazil, Argentina (until Jose Pekerman's aberrations on Friday), Germany and France.

Earlier in the week, Scolari had chanted that familiar mantra: "I want results, and teams that play beautiful football are usually on the first plane home." Now he was just dementedly demanding that his team score the goal, by any means, that their full complement of players should have fashioned. Yet, without the suspended Deco to power them, Portugal were never England's superiors.

A penalty shoot-out had always appeared likely once Rooney had departed and Portugal appeared incapable of profiting from it, so with shades of déjà vu, it was the same scenario as Lisbon; same outcome.

The fact that England went as close as they did does them enormous credit. There was simply insufficient nerve at the denouement to keep all those home fires of anticipation burning for another four days.

Scourge of referees from St Andrew's to Gelsenkirchen

26 December 2002: The first red card of Wayne Rooney's professional career came at St Andrew's. The 17-year-old charged at goal but lost control. Rooney leapt in two-footed on Birmingham's veteran defender Steve Vickers and was instantly ordered off by David Elleray.

4 October 2003: At White Hart Lane Rooney confronted referee Dermot Gallacher late in a game won 3-0 by Tottenham, and was booked. It was his fifth booking of the season, which was less than two months old.

13 December 2003: Rooney became embroiled in a clash with Portsmouth's Steve Stone whom he shoved to the floor. Believing a red card was coming, Rooney headed for the tunnel, but he was merely booked. His Everton team-mate Kevin Campbell had to call him back.

17 November 2004: England took on Spain in a friendly and Rooney had to be substituted for his own good. After wild challenges on Iker Casillas and Carlos Marchena, and sniping at referee George Kasnaferis, Sven Goran Eriksson took him off after 42 minutes. He had been booked once and a red card looked imminent. Rooney threw to the turf his black armband, which the England squad had been wearing in a tribute to the late Emlyn Hughes.

26 December 2004: Manchester United were a goal up against Bolton at Old Trafford. Tal Ben Haim challenged Rooney but no foul was given. He shoved the Israeli in the face, and was suspended for three games.

7 September 2005: With England frustrated by Northern Ireland in their World Cup qualifier, Rooney was booked for a challenge and almost picked up a second yellow card for another foul. Attempts by David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand to calm him down only produced more invective.

14 September 2005: Rooney reacted to a harsh booking in a Champions' League tie at Villarreal by sarcastically applauding the referee, Kim Milton Nielsen, who produced a second yellow card to dismiss Rooney from the field.

1 July 2006: Rooney was dismissed after a foul on Ricardo Carvalho and a confrontation with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Comments