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Barca hampered by archaic FIFA

Barcelona 11 hours ago
Read
Jul 2, 2006

England pay the penalty again

So, with a disappointing sense of inevitability, England have failed to make it past the quarter-final stage of yet another tournament, yet again on penalties and yet again Luiz Felipe Scolari has proved to be the architect of their downfall here in Gelsenkirchen.

Somehow Sven Goran Eriksson must reconcile himself to the sad truth that in three crucial meetings Scolari, a man who must surely give the Swede nightmares, has gotten the better of him and his much-hyped charges: For Gelsenkirchen in 2006, see Lisbon in 2004 and Shizuoka back in 2002.

Again the army of England fans which had travelled across to the continent to watch their heroes - be it in this stadium or in the fans' festivals - were reduced to tears as the pressure of the shootout told.

As always, the supporters managed to transform a foreign tournament match into a home game by the sheer weight of numbers. Alas, for England at least, that was once more not enough to get the better of their Portuguese rivals.

There was a definite air of inevitability about the result as soon as penalties became a reality. Been there, seen it, worn the t-shirt. As deflating as the exit is, perhaps most here in the Arena AufSchalke knew what was on the horizon. It was 1998 all over again.

However, while a hat-trick of defeats at the hands of Scolari will no doubt be galling to Eriksson, whether he's prepared to admit it or not, the World Cup encounter against Portugal deserves to be remembered as more than just the game in which Scolari secured his position as England and Eriksson's ultimate nemesis.

For ten glorious minutes following the introduction of Aaron Lennon in the 52nd minute until Wayne Rooney was dismissed in the 62nd England looked like they were set to break the Scolari hoodoo and finally fulfil the potential Eriksson has been telling us about for the last five years.

With Lennon on the right wing and Joe Cole on left, each supported gamely by Gary Neville and Ashley Cole respectively, England had genuine pace and width on both flanks.

As a result England were causing the Portuguese backline considerable problems: Lennon's pace put Portugal on the back foot, which in turn allowed Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to press on in tandem and offer Rooney the support he so sorely lacked in the first half.

After four World Cup games of laboured mediocrity against, at best, average opposition England actually appeared capable of beating a side of true quality and for those ten minutes it looked like Eriksson had stumbled upon a formula capable not only of winning, but winning with style - surely it was to be but a matter of time until one of Cole or Lennon created the chance Rooney had been waiting for.

It was not to be.

In what looked to be an act of petulance born out of an hour's frustration Rooney appeared to stamp on Ricardo Carvalho. Rooney apologists will argue he accidentally stood on the prostrate centre half; regardless, the striker lost control amid the ensuing accusations, shoving opponents and venting bile in his own inimitable way. The end result? A straight red for Rooney.

Suddenly England's hopes began to fade. With his only striker dismissed Eriksson was forced to sacrifice Joe Cole in favour of Peter Crouch; and while Crouch performed admirably, holding the ball up and chasing lost causes with dogged determination, the loss of both Cole and Rooney proved to be England's undoing.

A man down and shorn of both Cole, who has been one of England's few consistently impressive performers this tournament, and the talismanic Rooney, Eriksson's side were faced with an unenviable and ultimately unattainable challenge.

Although Owen Hargreaves was already having a great game before England were reduced to ten men, after the dismissal the much-maligned holding midfielder managed to find another gear and by adding selfless, surging runs to his tenacious tracking and well-timed tackling Hargreaves went from being England's best player to the overall man of the match.

Jeered following his introduction against Paraguay in England's opening game in Frankfurt the Bayern Munich man was lauded by the fans in Gelsenkirchen as it became apparent to everyone present that not only was he worthy of his place ahead of Michael Carrick but that he was having the game of his England career.

Given that England were forced to produce a classic 'backs-to-the-wall' performance it is understandable that over the game's 120 minutes England's best player was a defensive midfielder and that, conversely, Portugal's was an attacker.

After tormenting England for two hours with his fleet-footed dribbling, incisive forays from wide positions, neat lay-offs and fizzing shots it is shame that England's supporters will remember Ronaldo's reprehensible gamesmanship as much as his overall performance and decisive spot-kick in the penalty shootout.

The massed ranks of England fans who, as has become the norm at such events, dominated the stadium in both noise and numbers, vilified the 21-year-old Portuguese for his ready willingness to embrace football's darker arts.

In some footballing cultures the ability to deceive is a highly-rated skill, be it a step-over to fox a back-tracking defender or a feigned injury to dupe the officials; Ronaldo has become synonymous with both. Those with an appreciation for football in its purist form revel in Ronaldo's magical skills but despair of his loathsome histrionics.

If he doesn't leave Manchester United this summer as part of a Real Madrid electioneering campaign Ronaldo's performance against England will have assured him a season of hostile receptions at Premiership grounds.

In fact, given Ronaldo's readiness to demand the referee show red to Rooney, his club-mate and supposed friend, there might well be sections of the Old Trafford faithful who are unsure how to greet England's tormentor on the opening day of the season.

Unfortunately for Eriksson with his tenure at an end the ignominy of the hat-trick of defeats against Scolari could quite easily become at least as memorable as the 5-1 triumph over Germany back in 2001, a result which must surely be his crowning glory as England boss.

But unlike the defeats against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup and against Portugal in Euro 2004, Eriksson can take solace that this time at least he was not out-thought or out-manoeuvred by Scolari's tactics.

The formation and personnel changes employed by Scolari failed to prove as telling as they have in previous encounters between the two coaches.

Eriksson's England reacted quickly when Portugal switched things around; they never lost their defensive shape when Figo, Maniche and Cristiano Ronaldo interchanged positions, and the deployment of Ronaldo as a lone striker following the removal of the ineffective Pauleta and introduction of Simao was met with a confident disdain by John Terry and Rio Ferdinand - both of whom turned in excellent performances.

Perhaps this is being too generous, after all Eriksson's two substitutions in normal time were hardly tactical masterstrokes, but rather decisions made out of necessity: Cole for Crouch was the only viable option after Rooney saw red, and with David Beckham rendered a passenger after an awkward fall in the ninth minute his departure and the introduction of Lennon was inevitable.

Sadly for Eriksson, and England, one valiant, creditable performance does not make amends for the fact that England were below par throughout this World Cup.

Before the quarter-final Gary Neville, in his wonderful, brutally honest style, said: 'If we fail [against Portugal] we have to hold out hands up and say talk of us being potential World Champions was rubbish'.

Unfortunately it is difficult to argue with Neville's blunt assessment.

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