Sunday, July 02, 2006

Over & Out

England 0-0 Portugal (1-3 on penalties)

As you have may have noticed, it has taken me quite a long time to consider my thoughts in a rational manner over this match. A suspension that cost one player the chance to play in a semi-final, a harsh sending-off, the sly wink of a cheating foreigner, a handball claim... this match had it all, but, as I said before, England are now packing their bags to go home after their best performance of the tournament. They were unable to patch over their shortcomings, but there were some tentative signs that maybe, just maybe, the future may not be quite as depressing as one might think.

England's biggest problem was the lack of options to change once things started to go wrong. There was, as I suspected, no Plan B. When Rooney was sent off, the only option for Eriksson was to bring on Peter Crouch as a lone striker. They weren't going to score. They could have kept going for hours, but they weren't going to score. Rooney's sending off was a touch harsh, but I've seen players sent off for less. He was a silly boy. Having said that, though, part of the reason that he was back on the halfway line trying to get the ball in the first place was because of Eriksson's tactical system. He's an impatient player is Rooney, and was tackling back on the halfway line because he hadn't been receiving sort of service that he would expect. The red card, so far as I could see, looked as if it was for the shove on Ronaldo - he certainly wasn't reaching for his pocket until after that. I daresay that the conspiracy theorists will already have started on the fact that the referee was from Argentina, but it's irrelevant, really. Rooney's red card was, on balance, probably deserved.

Much has been made of Cristiano Ronaldo's reaction to it, and, watching it back, the referee didn't seem to react to Rooney's tackle until he was surrounded by Portuguese players. The issue of players surrounding referees and waving imaginary cards at them has been vexing me for some weeks, but not as much as the referees who seem to heed their "advice". I would have said this regardless of what happened yesterday, but this is a matter that FIFA need to address. I would suggest that giving out yellow cards to players that seek to get fellow professionals sent off would be a good place to start. Ronaldo can expect a tough time next season.

The penalty shoot-out belonged to the remarkable Ricardo, though he was helped by the fact that England had lost two of their best penalty takers in Beckham and Rooney. Having not had much to do for the previous couple of hours, he saved brilliantly from Gerrard, Lampard and Carragher. Only Owen Hargreaves - unquestionably England's man of the match, and a player that has almost certainly guaranteed himself a place in Steve McLaren's team - found a way past him, and that was only by the skin of his teeth. The turning point was Gerrard's miss. If he had scored, it could all have been very different, but it's all so many ifs or buts.

Portugal are, by some distance, the worst team in the semi-finals. Outplayed for long periods, and unable to break down ten men for an hour, they only scantly deserve their place in the last four - and I'm saying this on the basis of their entire performance in the tournament. England, now Eriksson-free, now have to try and negotiate a tricky European Championship qualifying group.


colin said...

For me, it was a red card all day, every day.

All right, Rooney probably didn't mean to catch him in the plums, but he certainly had a stamp at him.

The movement involved is completely at odds with anything else - he's looking at the ball the whole time, knows the man is behind him and, crucially for such a talented player, thrusting his leg back there compromises his balance and all but surrenders any hope of getting the ball.

And, while I don't particularly like Ronaldo, I'd have more stomach for today's ongoing villification of pantomime swarthy foriegners if we hadn't seen England players brandishing imaginary cards in the games against Sweden and Ecuador.

The saddest thing was that this was, for the most part, another horribly fractured and dislocated performance against a Portugal side that was absolutely there for the taking.

In five games, England had the opportunity to make the semis without having to play against anything even approaching a top side ... but, still, they pinged long passes at a lone striker who had no support within 25 yards of him.

On the upside, I think the players finally showed what they were made of - but they were completely hamstrung by management decisions that almost defy belief.

twohundredpercent said...

We were screaming "THROW ON WALCOTT! YOU'VE GOT NOTHING TO LOSE NOW!" after Rooney was sent off. But even in the face of near-certain defeat he was too cautious.

Plusses: Hargreaves - Earnt his place in the team, and won over critics. Lennon - The natural successor to Beckham on the right. Only better. Beckham gone - as captain for now, but his full international retirement is surely only a matter of time, and he may not have any say in the matter.

discostu said...

You can argue about the sending off till you are blue in the face (i think it only deserved a yellow), but before that decision after decision unjustifiably went portugals way. The refereeing was shocking.

And i agree Ian, from a couple of minutes into extra time we looked to be playing for penalties, which i didnt think we had a hope of winning. Crouch played really well - but with his back to goal. I'd have dropped lampard (well, i wouldnt even have started with him given the choice) and gone 3-4-2 with crouch and walcott and just ATTACKED until we won or lost 5-0.

Hargreaves was superb. MOTM no doubt. Looks like Terry will be capitan from now on...

colin said...

I didn't think the ref was bad, actually ... and I don't think Premiership refs do English sides any favours by letting everbody kick the living crap out of each other every week, because it bites them on the bum when they play in Europe and beyond.

I was impressed with Lennon. Hargreaves did very well and his workrate is incredible - but he's still got all the distribution skills of a dyslexic postman and it rather ruins the impact of being a ball-winning midfielder when you can't help but give it away again.

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