Sven Goran Eriksson insisted last night that England had played well but declined to defend Wayne Rooney for the sending-off that undermined the final performance of the head coach's increasingly unpopular period in charge. He also admitted their penalty kicks were not good enough.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, who might have been replacing him had the Football Association had the patience to wait until the end of the tournament, praised the sort of English spirit that he might have enjoyed working with, and claimed that Portugal could now win the competition.
After losing his third successive quarter-final by a narrow margin, Eriksson argued that "everything went according to plan" on the day, until the red card. "We played some very good football and started the second half fantastically and in control of everything," he said.
Rooney, alas, was not in control and paid a heavy penalty for his lunge at Ricardo Carvalho. "I've only seen it once on a small television but I don't think we can complain about it," Eriksson said. "Maybe there should have been a free-kick [to England] just before it."
David Beckham had some sympathy with that view. "He had two players on his back, if the referee had have given that there would not have been this situation," the England captain said.
Rooney is known to lose his cool, something that his Manchester United club-mate, Cristiano Ronaldo, who ran to join in the fracas around Carvalho and Rooney, knows only too well. So it was disappointing to see the Portuguese winger's knowing wink after Rooney saw red. Ronaldo later confirmed reports linking him with a move to Real Madrid.
Eriksson praised England's performance after Rooney's departure, but not their skills when put on the spot. "Of course it's not good enough to miss three penalties out of four," he said. "We practised them so much, I don't think we could have done any more."
Owen Hargreaves, the official man of the match, understandably felt that his award was no consolation whatsoever, though he was pleased to have his name chanted by England fans just a couple of weeks after being booed when coming on as a substitute. "I was convinced we'd win when it went to penalties," he said, "but their keeper made some great saves."
Frank Lampard could barely bring himself to describe the utter dejection he felt inside. "It is the worst feeling I've ever experienced," said the Chelsea midfielder. "I don't want to talk too much and I am devastated. I cried a couple of times at the end of the game."
Scolari, hoping now to emulate his 2002 World Cup victory with Brazil, said: "England closed down the route to goal so well that it was like 11 against 11. My team showed a warrior spirit, which is what has been missing in Portuguese football."
As for Eriksson, accused of not building a team, he had in fact found his World Cup side a full 15 months before the tournament; the line-up who beat Northern Ireland 4-0 at Old Trafford in March last year being what he wanted to start the tournament with. Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney then both broke a foot, Gary Neville was injured and that side were never on the pitch together in Germany.
Crucially, however, Eriksson compounded that problem with the incomprehensible decision to take the teenager Theo Walcott as one of only four strikers, two of whom were not match fit. An adequate plan B with a holding midfield player consequently became even more important and had also proved difficult to evolve, leading to some confused performances last autumn.
Now, after the bungled process of finding a successor, Steve McClaren will begin with a friendly against Greece at Old Trafford in August before an undemanding start to the European Championship campaign. McClaren, coach at the last three tournaments, will find himself tarred with the Eriksson brush. He needs a good start even more than England's first foreign manager, who became the first holder of that post to win his opening five games in charge. But all that seems a long time ago.
Coach Travel: Six losers on the road again
ILIJA PETKOVIC: Every time the sacked Serbia & Montenegro coach manages a national team, they cease to exist; he was in charge of the Yugoslavs for a whole two months, and now Montenegro have taken their ball home to play by themselves.
JOSE PEKERMAN: Farewell to Argentina's coach, the latest to find out that losing to Germany on penalties is not a great career move.
HENRI MICHEL: Ivory Coast's well-travelled French coach - he had been to previous World Cup finals with France, Cameroon and Morocco - has not had his contract renewed, and is off to Qatar. A Gulf in class?
LUIS ARAGONES: "I said if we didn't finish among the top four I would go," said Spain's unpleasant coach. On Friday he changed his mind. Perhaps he couldn't find any other takers: he is not thought to be top of the Ivory Coast's wish-list.
DICK ADVOCAAT: Having replaced Guus Hiddink at South Korea, Advocaat was a logical choice for Australia in the game of Dutch Manager Merry-Go-Round. But instead he is following his countryman to Russia, taking over at Zenit St Petersburg.
PAWEL JANAS: He made it to the semis as a player in 1982, but this time Janas jumped before he was pushed after Poland made an ucho s'wini (pig's ear) of reaching the second phase.
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