Friday, June 25, 2004

An alternative match report

Of all the people I should be sitting next to during last night's Portugal-England game, it should be two beered-up Scots urging the Portuguese forward at every turn and howling at every loss of possession.

But they needn't have worried. As happened against France, England began to crumble in the last quarter, giving away the ball needlessly and finding that defending is a lot harder than going forward. And what a surprise, 10 minutes from the end up pops a Portuguese player and goal.

Still, at least it wasn't in injury time...

This has always been England's problem, fading away towards the end. The signs were there on Monday, against Croatia too, when they scored to pull it back from 3-1 to 3-2. Luckily Lampard scored a few minutes later to give England the cushion they needed.

But what ca I say about last night? Even if they were struggling, England could - and should have held out. But instead they got pulled into extra-time and then went behind in the second period. Again, Lampard to the rescue. And yes, we may bemoan the fact that the disallowed goal should have counted, but I hope that won't be used as an excuse to mask some of the failings in this team.

I'm sure Beckham thought that as captain he had to lead by example and take the first (missed) penalty. But he hasn't been playing well all tournament and wasn't in the right frame of mind to do so. And everyone was struggling with that penalty spot, so again, no excuses.

Compare the England penalties to Portugal's. While the Portuguese slotted them away in the corner, three of England's went straight down the middle. Did that reflect the level of English confidence?

Ultimately, England didn't deserve to win. But the media, the fans and the team will no doubt seize on the disallowed goal and Rooney's substitution as evidence that 'we wuz robbed'.

No we weren't. And perhaps now (but extremely unlikely), we will stop going around claiming to be the best team at this tournament and go back to basics. They could start by finding a new goalkeeper. James still looks shaky, especially when England are on the defensive.

If we were the best team at Euro 2004, second only to France, then England - not Portugal - would be in the semi-finals. It's that simple.

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