England. Semi-final. Penalty shoot-out. Three things that go together like oh and dear.
The hockey players of England had just the one lion on their shirts at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium last night but that did not diminish the pain in their hearts when Shivendra Singh smashed the ball past James Fair to deny them a shot at Commonwealth gold against Australia in tomorrow's final. Strictly speaking, it was penalty strokes rather than a penalty shootout but this was Turin 1990 and Wembley 1996 for England's far from jolly hockey sticks brigade.
As the 20,000 Delhiites crammed into the home of India's national sport began raucous celebrations, and the strains of "Tally Ho", the Slumdog Millionaire theme song, boomed out over the public address system, 14 Englishmen collapsed to the ground in utter despair. Another two made straight for the umpires.
The scoreboard flashed confirmation that India had won 5-4 on penalties, the gripping contest having been all-square at 3-3 after 70 minutes of regulation time, plus a further 15 of extra time. They had found a way to get the better of Fair, the 29-year-old colossus in the England goal. According to the outraged losers, however, the host nation had not done so by fair means.
"Two of their penalty goals shouldn't have been given because they dragged the ball," the England defender Richard Alexander lamented at pitch-side. "You can't do that. I can only assume the rules have changed.
"It's not as if we're trying to make something out of nothing here. It's hard when you feel like you've lost to someone breaking the rules. We are all very emotional. We invest our whole lives into this and some players sacrifice their whole careers to play this sport and it's a hard thing to take."
In addition to two of the penalties, the England camp also disputed the build up to the goal by Saravanjit Singh that levelled the score at 3-3 with 10 minutes remaining. "It should have been a foul to us," Barry Middleton, the England captain, said. "We worked so hard for this tournament. It's just a very, very painful way to go out."
Compounding the pain – which may not be eased by victory in the bronze medal play-off against New Zealand – was the fact that Middleton and his team-mates had overcome the setback of conceding an 18th minute goal to take a 3-1 lead nine minutes into the second half.
With Ashley Jackson, their dynamic attacking midfielder, wreaking havoc and scoring from two penalty corners (Simon Mantell added the third from another penalty corner), England were in control and seemingly heading for the kind of high last enjoyed by a British hockey team when Sean Kerly and Co struck Olympic gold in Seoul in 1988.
As it happened, Kerly was watching from the television commentary box last night – and was no doubt feeling the pain as India, galvanised by the roars of the crowd, pegged back the two-goal deficit and then capitalised in the penalty decider after Glenn Kirkham had his shot saved.
It would probably have been different had Jackson found the back of the net instead of the angle of bar and post with the score at 3-1. However, Jose Brasa, India's Spanish head coach, claimed. "Not one of the English goals was legal. They can complain as much as they want, but I am sorry: we were the better team."
Diary: What to watch today
From 10.30am: Boxing Britons
Five all-British bouts take place in today's finals, with Bradley Saunders and Anthony Ogogo among the hopefuls.
1.00pm: Pair Squash
England's doubles pair Adrian Grant and Nick Matthew take on Australia.
1.00pm: Diving back in
Yesterday's gold-winning double act Tom Daley and Max Brick both compete in the 10m Platform final.
TV 9-11.30am, 1-2pm, BBC2. 11.30am-1pm, 2.15-5pm, BBC1. Highlights: 7-8pm, BBC2. Additional coverage: BBCiReuse content