Graeme le Saux: We felt like we were in mourning after shoot-out exit

The sense of loss grows through the night and during the next day
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The Independent Football

Watching England on Saturday the memories came flooding back, most of them bad. Gelsenkirchen 2006 was almost a rerun of St-Etienne 1998, when I was in the England team knocked out of the World Cup on penalties by Argentina.

Then, as on Saturday, we had a key player, a young rising star from Manchester United, sent off. Like Saturday, we dug in with 10 men, drew on our collective strength, and were galvanised into playing some of our best football of the tournament. And once again we lost on penalties.

I didn't take one myself. I couldn't as I had been substituted suffering from cramp during the game. My calves had seized up. I noticed in the latter stages against Portugal Steven Gerrard was like that; he would go to close someone down and he could not get there as he was so exhausted. If that happens to you as a defender you've had it, so I had to go off and I was so frustrated. So all the time I was watching I was also trying to deal with the personal disappointment of not being able to help.

Once the penalties started it was an out-of-body experience. You were there but you weren't. The guys on the pitch were waiting in the centre circle, the rest of us were on the bench watching. I don't think we linked arms, that wasn't so common then. I just remember sitting on the bench hardly bearing to watch. Having been withdrawn there was nothing I could do. If it went to 10-all, I still couldn't take one. I felt helpless.

Afterwards the sense of loss grows through the night and during the next day as you gain perspective and recover from the match. Your mind wanders from the tournament and you feel empty. The journey back would have been awful for England on Sunday. Eight years ago, we felt as if we were in mourning. I just sat there reliving the game and thinking about what I could have done to make a difference - how could I have stopped that move, what if I'd made that pass? You drift around mentally as you get more tired. You try to look at positives, either in the performance or in the fact that the strain of the tournament is now over and you'll be reunited with normality.

We got back to La Baule, our base in France, very late. No one could sleep. We just stayed in the bar area having our first drink for God knows how long. Everyone was trying to pick each other up. The red card and penalties add another dimension as some people feel more guilty than others. The guys who missed the penalties feel bad, the others feel bad as they don't want the guys who missed to feel bad. You try to take the strain off them. People who miss penalties don't become villains, certainly not within the team. They stood up to be counted.

Our shoot-out was quite close. David Seaman saved the third penalty, from Hernan Crespo, so if Paul Ince had scored we'd have gone 2-1 up. Then it went to 5-4 before David Batty had the 12th penalty saved. But when it comes down to penalties there are no villains; you just deal with the situation the best you can and hope you score.

Two of Portugal's penalties on Saturday were very impressive. Petit had to wait for what seemed an age before he was allowed to take the first penalty, yet he still converted it. That was a real show of intent. Then Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty to win it was so cool. He had such enthusiasm for the situation, you could see he was enjoying it - the pressure, the abuse he was getting from England fans, everything. To be so at ease, and to take such a penalty, was a great statement of his mental strength. He might need that mental strength if he returns to Old Trafford.

I knew Owen Hargreaves would score. He's come out of the tournament with so much credibility and I hope the public will give him the credit he deserves. Twice he said, "I've been given a chance to start, now I'll show I can play." I was not as confident about our other penalties, and I especially felt for Jamie Carragher having to retake his. What must have gone through his mind? "Do I go the same way, or the other side?" But the 'keeper did well. He's very good at reading the body language of players and psychologically always seemed in control.

I also felt for Frank Lampard because it topped off a disappointing tournament for him. He's a tremendous player but didn't click. It's up to management to get the best out of a player in such a situation. I felt he could have done with a couple of days away from the camp to get his head right. In 1998 I was slated after we lost to Romania and in such an enclosed environment it's hard to snap yourself out of it.

I remember we were welcomed back as 10 heroes - the 11th, David Beckham, wasn't too popular at the time - and this team went down with honour on the day. But while we showed guts and unity it was frustrating that we only started playing when we were down to 10 men. Aaron Lennon should have had more of a part in the tournament and there remained a lack of leadership from the bench. On the balance of the team's performances our luck was going to run out at some point.

The whole group will feel so negative now. They believed the time was right to achieve great things and haven't done so. Collectively they can't even take much consolation in their performances. They did OK but didn't set the tournament alight. So the immediate future is a bit of a concern. It is going to be hard for Steve McClaren as there doesn't seem to have been any structure to the team in the last four weeks. Coming from inside, he would like to be overseeing an evolving team; instead people are going to be saying we should deconstruct it. He has some big decisions to make. We'll see whether he is someone who takes them.