Craig Brown: Referee's error denies England victory

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The Independent Online

Was it unfair, were they unlucky? Certainly, the man from a neutral country, Switzerland, with his streaked hedgehog hair, was anything but neutral when Sol Campbell headed what should have been the winning goal in second-half stoppage time. Standing some 15 yards away, Urs Meier unaccountably disallowed Campbell's header, which under the circumstances was a horrendous error.

Was it unfair, were they unlucky? Certainly, the man from a neutral country, Switzerland, with his streaked hedgehog hair, was anything but neutral when Sol Campbell headed what should have been the winning goal in second-half stoppage time. Standing some 15 yards away, Urs Meier unaccountably disallowed Campbell's header, which under the circumstances was a horrendous error.

Throughout the match, Meier consistently seemed susceptible to the hype of the night, giving every dubious decision to the home team, not to mention yellow cards to the visitors.

It could only be that somehow he felt that John Terry's left arm slightly impeded the Portugal keeper, Ricardo Oliveira, but Terry did jump fairly, as did the undoubted goalscorer, Campbell. For the referee to indicate a push was quite inexplicable.

A justifiable persecution complex inspired England after that and although, on balance of play, Rui Costa deservedly put the Portuguese into the lead with a thunderous goal from 19 yards after sidestepping Phil Neville, England came roaring back.

This England side had belief beyond belief, and tremendous mental strength to compensate for the obvious physical debility as a result of less rest time than the Portuguese after their final group match.

Frankly, it was no surprise right at the end when their dogged determination enabled Frank Lampard to equalise from a superbly flighted corner from David Beckham, headed back across goal by the towering Terry.

And so to penalties... David Beckham blasted the first one high over the bar from a crumbling spot. As someone who has been at a few tournaments, I can tell what happened. They had been practising penalties at the Estadio da Luz and in so doing had damaged the penalty spot, which would have been made worse by watering the pitch beforehand.

Cristiano Ronaldo had to trample down the spot by jumping up and down before taking his, a novel way to prepare for a life-or-death moment. Some penalties - like Michael Owen's and Frank Lampard's - were struck straight down the middle but Helder Postiga's outrageous straight chip would have brought a smile to the lips of my old friend Mick McCarthy. At the other Stadium of Light, during a penalty shoot-out in the First Division play-off semi-final between Sunderland and Crystal Palace last month, Jeff Whitley had attempted something similar and roused the Sunderland manager to fury when he fouled up.

Ricardo, diving to his left without gloves, made a great save from Darius Vassell and then fired home the decisive penalty himself. It might have appeared bizarre that he should take it but Ricardo was on such a high that he could not possibly miss. It was incredible stuff from the keeper, whom I identified yesterday as a penalty-saver not a penalty-taker.

Unfortunately, Vassell now joins Stuart Pearce, Gareth Southgate and David Batty in the list of those whose missed penalties have cost England tournaments. Nevertheless, last night's tremendous endeavours exploded the theory that England are a one-man team.

It may be that the early departure of Wayne Rooney with an ankle injury was a psychological lift for Portugal but it was pleasing to see that Owen vindicated his retention with a brilliant opening goal. While his striking partner has been receiving all the eulogies, anyone who harboured doubts about Owen had them dispelled last night. Not so long ago, he was the precocious, swashbuckling new talent but this 24-year-old renewed his youth with a fine though often unsupported performance.

There will be many internationals to come for Owen but this could have been Luis Figo's final game for Portugal. Big Phil Scolari is a proactive, fearless strategist and this was a triumph for positive substitutions and psychological tenacity. It could so easily have rebounded on the manager just as Graham Taylor's decision to haul off Gary Lineker did in 1992.

It should be said that, unlike Figo, who could have turned team spirit with his morose departure, the attitude of the England players on being replaced was a credit to them. During some desperate second-half defending, they threw themselves at everything, their attitude was impeccable.

Unquestionably England were denied victory by the referee but it was questionable whether it was deserved. Portugal were the better side. Amid shades of their opening fixture with France, England sat back and defended too deeply once they had taken the lead.

If the centre-halves had been the likes of Martin Keown and Tony Adams, this might have been understandable, but Campbell and Terry are quick and they could and should have pushed up. If there is a lack of energy, you want to make the game compact. England did not, although I should say in mitigation that it is always easy to coach someone else's team.

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