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.