This time there will be no excuses, vows Neville
Monday 22 May 2006
The 1998 World Cup and the European Championships of 1996 and 2004 are etched on the mind for the manner of England's exit, but, along with the heartache of the penalty shoot-out, they also represent serious under-achievement at the highest level, according to Gary Neville, who insists that there will be no excuse for failure in Germany.
In an assessment that contradicts Michael Owen's view that England's "nearly man" tag is a media invention, the Manchester United captain declared that injury to Wayne Rooney, a poor decision from a referee or another miss from 12 yards are no reason for his prodigiously talented generation to fail in another international tournament next month.
Speaking with the impatience of one who may be approaching his last World Cup, the 31-year-old admitted: "I've got to be realistic and think that at 35 I might not be playing at the next World Cup, and although there is a possibility that could happen I'm looking at this as my last and best chance to win a World Cup.
"There can be no excuses. We've been talking about England peaking in this tournament for years, so wherever we get is the measure of this team. For me, this is the peak for this team, for my generation, so there really can be no excuses. No bad decision, no missed penalty, no poor performance - these are things you have to cope with."
Neville refuses to countenance the idea that three penalty shoot-out defeats in the last five international tournaments is down to fate rather than form.
He said: "We have to be prepared for them. If we're not prepared I don't think we ever will be because we have had so many bad experiences with penalties, Argentina, Germany in '96, Portugal in 2004. It's no good us moaning about them if we get knocked out on penalties.
"We know about it now. We know what can happen. We know it probably is going to go to penalties in one of the four knock-out games and we've got to deal with it if we are going to go far in this tournament. I've only won one penalty shoot-out with England and that was against Spain in Euro 96 when we took five really good penalties. It is not just about luck, it's about quality and about having the nerve."
At Vale Do Lobo last week Owen was irritated at the suggestion that England have a reputation for glorious defeat than victory - "the press keep drilling it into people and you're not doing any favours for us," he said - but Neville accepts that under Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson, the national team has not exceeded the sum of its parts.
"I think we underachieved in 2004 in Portugal," he admits. "Euro 2000 in Belgium and Holland, we weren't good enough, so you have to be realistic as well. In '98 you could say we underachieved. Then again you hear the excuses - "Oh we had Becks sent off" - but we lost to Romania in the group stages which meant we had to play Argentina rather than take an easier path. We shot ourselves in the foot.
"There can be no excuses this time - 2004 is the tournament where I think we underachieved. Euro 96 I'd also say we underachieved because I thought we should have won it, but this is the best chance we've got. We have no God-given right to win a World Cup but until we do we will be known as a nearly team."
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