Fortune favours brave England

Spain 0 England 0 England won 4-2 on penalties after extra time Att: 75,440

A terrible way to lose and an unsatisfactory way to win. Not that it will worry England: who now remembers that the Danes only reached the last European Championship final through penalties?

England had an element of fortune at Wembley on Saturday. They did not play particularly well and, for much of the match, their opponents were the more accomplished side. Spain also had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed.

However, after Turin in 1990, and the performance against the Dutch, they deserved some luck. They certainly earned it for their endeavour.

It was the traditional virtues, those of effort, spirit and dogged defending, allied to outstanding goalkeeping which enabled England to match Spain's superior technique and slicker team-work.

It was a decent match, though after a while most spectators were too tense to enjoy it. Spain, motivated, well-organised and cleverly coached, were classier in the first half. Had a French linesman not joined a Russian one in the Wembley annals, the scoreline would have reflected that.

Gallic intervention came after 33 minutes when Fernando Hierro mis-hit Javier Manjarin's pass to Julio Salinas. Salinas - a surprising choice - found the net with considerable cool only to be wrongly flagged offside, Tony Adams having played him onside.

The chance arrived because of the way England had stood off Manjarin. Such uncertainty typified their first-half display as the little touches that had worked so well against the Netherlands failed to come off. Paul Gascoigne was being caught in possession or over-hitting his passes while the impressive wing-back Sergi was causing havoc down England's right flank.

England had chances, Alan Shearer bringing a good save from Andoni Zubizarreta with his supposedly weaker foot and Adams forcing the keeper to tip a header over the bar.

That threat had followed a floated Gascoigne free-kick which rendered the mess they made of a similar position, after 41 minutes, all the more wasteful. This time, instead of crossing into a penalty area full of England players, Gascoigne played it short to Steve McManaman, took a return ball and gave it away to Salinas. He quickly put Manjarin clear. He was 35 yards from goal but, when he looked up, he saw David Seaman less than five yards away. In panic he played the ball too close and the goalkeeper got a foot in. It was an unorthodox but vital save.

England improved after the break. McManaman, who had another fine game, was given a freer role and the whole team closed the Spanish down more quickly. One casualty of this policy was Gary Neville, who was booked for the second time and misses the semi-final. His brother, Phil, is the likely replacement, though an alternative would be to play Gareth Southgate on the right of a back three. The impressive French referee also booked Alfonso, for diving under Gascoigne's challenge. It took several television replays to realise what a good decision this was.

Gascoigne became more involved and Shearer had a half-chance but, gradually, the Spanish regained the ascendancy and only some late, skilled tackles from the excellent Southgate, Stuart Pearce and Adams kept them out.

The golden goal period came and went. The innovation, if anything, led to a more defensive game, though mutual exhaustion was a factor in the lack of adventure.

Then came the penalties. England were favourites from the moment Shearer marched off to take the first kick. Seaman is always likely to save at least one kick in these affairs and, after Hierro hit the bar, he brilliantly denied Nadal. All of England's penalties were despatched in nerveless manner, notably that of Pearce who finally, and deservedly, exorcised the ghost of Turin.

Even so, the nature of England's win made for more sober reflection than did their midweek win over the Netherlands. So did the build-up and aftermath.

The third emotion most people would have felt following Seaman's save - after relief and delight - was sympathy for the vanquished. Spain had been the better side, and the best outfield player on the pitch had missed the decisive penalty. Yet they took it well, with some of their massively outnumbered supporters joining in the flag-waving during the now-obligatory "Three Lions" rendition.

So it was depressing, when the stadium emptied, to see the Spanish being taunted outside. As they spilled down the steps, their faces numb with defeat, they were greeted by chants of "adios, adios, adios". How, one fears, would those doing the mocking have reacted if positions were reversed?

And what fuels this ugly and xenophobic triumphalism - apart from alcohol? Crawl forward sections of the tabloid press. Some of the pre-match coverage was offensive and racist. One article listed "10 nasties Spain's given Europe" including, it alleged, syphilis and carpet bombing. Another headline screamed "Give 'em a Spainking". Yet who would have been first to condemn the "mindless louts" if the match had been marred by hooliganism?

There is nothing wrong with patriotism, but why does it have to invoke negative images of opponents rather than positive ones of England? Supporters could have been encouraged to "offer the hand of friendship", to "show foreigners what a fair-minded nation we are", to "send them home feeling good about England".

There is a tremendous residue of pro-English sentiment in much of Europe but, if the current wave of xenophobia carries on it will continue to dissipate.

And that was just for Spain, England's favourite holiday destination. Compared to the anti-German propaganda we are about to receive, last week's rubbish will seem as tame as a parish newsletter.

Fortunately most fans - and police - have given reason to be proud of England as they have welcomed foreign supporters into their cities. It is one reason for the tournament's success. The other is England's progress. If they can ally Saturday's spirit to last week's inspiration, Germany too can be overcome.

Penalties: Shearer 1-0; Hierro (hit bar); Platt 2-0; Amor 2-1; Pearce 3-1; Belsue 3-2; Gascoigne 4-2; Nadal (saved).

ENGLAND (4-4-1-1): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); McManaman (Liverpool), Gascoigne (Rangers), Platt (Arsenal), Anderton (Tottenham); Sheringham (Tottenham); Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes: Fowler (Liverpool) for Anderton, 109; Barmby (Middlesbrough) for Sheringham, 109; Stone (Nottingham Forest) for McManaman, 109.

England statistics: Bookings: G Neville. Free-kicks conceded: 12. Goal attempts: 8. On target: 4. Corners: 5. Caught offside: 2.

SPAIN (3-5-1-1): Zubizarreta (Valencia); Alkorta (Real Madrid), Nadal (Barcelona), Abelardo (Barcelona); Belsue (Real Zaragoza), Manjarin (Deportivo La Coruna), Hierro (Real Madrid), Amor (Barcelona), Sergi (Barcelona); Kiko (Atletico Madrid); Salinas (Sporting Gijon). Substitutes: Alfonso (Real Betis) for Salinas, h-t; Caminero (Atletico Madrid) for Manjarin, h-t; Lopez (Atletico Madrid) for Alkorta, 72.

Spain statistics: Bookings: Abelardo, Belsue, Sergi, Alfonso. Free-kicks conceded: 11. Goal attempts: 12. On target: 2. Corners: 11. Caught offside: 4.

Referee: M Batta (France). Man of the match: Seaman.

PAUL INCE

ON PEARCE

'I think you could call Stuart the bravest man on the planet to take that penalty after what happened before. People don't forget things like Turin and for him to go up and take that one on Saturday and score the way he did was just great for him'

ALAN HANSEN

ON PEARCE

'It took incredible courage to take that penalty today. If you were in the trenches with this man you would want him to go over with you first. He showed amazing bottle'

GARY NEVILLE

ON PEARCE

'That just epitomised Stuart as a person. To go through what he did in Italy and then to take the penalty on Saturday was incredible. He's an inspiration to everyone'

STUART PEARCE

ON PEARCE

'A lot will be said about it because I missed that penalty against Germany a few years ago, but I would have taken another one the following week if I'd been asked to'

DAVID SEAMAN

ON HIS SAVE

'I have been involved in shoot-outs before. There's no pressure on the keeper and I would much sooner try to save them than take them. I just used my normal method; stand up as long as possible, watch the taker and make my move'

TONY ADAMS ON

BEING CAPTAIN

'It was no big deal. It was the manager's decision and all the parties concerned accepted it and just got on with it. We're all professionals, we're all big men. He [Terry Venables] obviously thought it was best for the team'

VENABLES

ON HIS TEAM

'I told the players before the start that some matches you win for other reasons than playing brilliantly well. This was one of those. It was a strong, gutsy performance but when it came to it the finishing from the penalties was first-class'

JAVIER CLEMENTE

SPANISH COACH

'Could somebody please tell Paul Gascoigne he should stand up and be still when our anthem is playing. He was bending down, pulling up his socks and bouncing up and down during our anthem before the start. He could have done all that later'

DAVID LLOYD

CRICKET COACH

'I caught a couple of the penalties on the TV in the dressing room, Ii was all very exciting. I think our players got the message. I think London erupted when England won. Even Dickie Bird stopped proceedings a couple of times'

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