June 24th, 2004 • 11:26 pm
Well, Eriksson can complain about the condition of the penalty spot where the penalties had to be taken from last night all he wants, it won’t change anything to the fact that: 1) everyone, including the Portuguese players, had to take their penalty from the same spot; 2) things might not have gone to penalty kicks had he changed his team’s tactics from protecting their slender 1-0 lead for about 80 minutes to actually trying to get a second goal and put the game beyond Portugal.
The two regular halves were really very boring, much like they were in the opening England – France game, because England didn’t really try to play. They got their first goal early through a bad mistake by the Portuguese defense and a nice flick by Michael Owen, but then what did they do? They defended fairly well for 80 minutes, but with only a 1-0 lead, you are always taking a risk. They took the risk, and were ultimately made to pay for it.
Of course, the Wayne Rooney injury after 27 minutes was a major blow, but that’s what happens when you rely on a single player to lift the whole team. Without Rooney, the English team was fairly ordinary, and that was in evidence again last night. There was nothing particularly impressive about the performances of the likes of Lampard, Scholes, Gerrard, etc. They never really delivered during this tournament, with the possible exception of the game against Croatia.
The overtime periods were of course much more exciting, with the help of the “silver goal” rule, which meant that the Portuguese goal by Rui Costa early in the second half was not enough, and that England were able to draw level again a handful of minutes before the end.
Finally, the penalty kicks were highly dramatic as usual, with Beckham completely missing his, with Rui Costa going from hero to zero by missing his and making things level again for England. Ultimately, victory went to the time with the greatest amount of gall. After saving his team and proving all his Premier League critics wrong with his equalizer late in the second half of regular time, Postiga scored the cheekiest of penalty kicks when he could easily gone from hero to zero himself. And then the Portuguese keeper Ricardo finally produced the first penalty save of the evening, and went on to take the next penalty himself and bury it in the most convincing fashion.
It’s cruel, but someone has to win… and at some point everyone in England has to admit that this Eriksson-managed team, especially without Rooney, lacks some of the flamboyance and daring that make great performances and produce great wins. They have nothing to be ashamed of, but at the same time you cannot help but feel that the strategy and tactics were often too conservative. And for that, the blame ultimately rests on Eriksson’s own shoulders.